When I started reading Mindful Pregnancy (DK, 2020) by Tracy Donegan, there were just a few confirmed cases of COVID-19 in my state of Washington. By the time you are reading this, things are almost unrecognizable. In a world that is humming with anxiety, with no clear end in sight, Donegan’s pregnancy guide is quite timely. It provides comfort to pregnant people, with practical guidance for how to deal with stress.
Tracy Donegan is a medically trained midwife and birth expert, and her book reads as though she was visiting you in your home, sharing her wisdom over a cup of tea. I would highly recommend this book for pregnant people who are already knowledgeable about the physiological aspects of childbirth and are seeking a more holistic approach to pregnancy and birth. It could be an excellent companion to a more in-depth pregnancy guide or comprehensive.
The first thing that stood out to me when I opened Mindful Pregnancy was the beautiful design of the book. The book's design contributes directly to a calming, informative, and positive experience for me as the reader. The color palette trends toward gentle pastels. It is enriched by elegant illustrations and photographs that give examples of meditation and yoga exercises, nutrition tips, home remedies, and more. The book is very easy to read, and very relatable. Topics are broken down into one or two pages. There is a chapter devoted to each trimester and to childbirth and postpartum, containing specific exercises and nutritional advice for each one. A pregnant person does not need to read this book cover to cover, but can pick and choose the topics that they want to personally explore -- if they are looking for exercises, they can quickly refer to the illustrated yoga sequences; if they are needing a moment of reflection, they can quickly refer to the breathing and meditation examples. The accompanying illustrations are engaging and beautiful.
The author’s bio in the back of the book states that Donegan is a “positive birth expert” and this is reflected in the language she uses throughout the book. The text is sprinkled with affirmations such as “approach this trimester with an attitude of appreciation for the intelligence of your body.” Mindfulness in pregnancy can be exercised through attention to small details in our everyday life -- taking a shower, taking a walk, eating a meal, feeding your baby. She describes labor contractions as “sensations,” “twinges,” “surges,” and “waves.” There are visualization exercises that encourage the birthing person to envision a calm birth, and bonding with their baby. There is also a “compassion meditation” that encourages tuning in to one’s emotions and focusing on one’s relationships. In the postpartum chapter Donegan describes ways of “becoming a mindful mother” by being present and kind to oneself.
The strength of Mindful Pregnancy is its way of illuminating the emotional journey of a pregnant person becoming a parent, and guiding them through that transformation with grace. Its weakness is its lack of detailed information regarding the physical transformation, and how it overstates some of the physical benefits related to a mindful practice in pregnancy. Regarding meditation, Donegan states “your baby is less likely to be born prematurely and is more likely to experience healthy brain functions due to your reduced stress” (p. 15). While it is true that stress can have adverse effects on pregnant people and babies, the data on relaxation and premature births has been limited. According to the Cochrane Library, there has not been enough research to make a valid conclusion about labor outcomes based on relaxation and preterm labor. Additionally, Donegan’s statement does not address systemic racism and the stress and impact this has on pregnancy and birth for families of color. Donegan also states that perineal massage reduces the risk of tearing in labor (p. 130), but according to Rebecca Dekker of Evidence Based Birth, this benefit is only seen in people delivering vaginally for the first time, and there may be other factors involved. Donegan’s claims of these benefits are not incorrect, but may be exaggerated.
I view Mindful Pregnancy as a complement to a more comprehensive book on pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. The person who will most benefit from this book is someone who already has access to information -- whether it is in a childbirth class or another book -- that covers the basic physical aspects of pregnancy and birth, and can use Donegan’s book as supplemental reading. For example, this book does not discuss pregnancy warning signs, or discuss the medical options for pain relief. Nor does it tell parents what to expect in the hospital right after the baby is born if that is where they are birthing. Instead, it addresses the emotional needs of the pregnant person as they make the transition to parenthood, how to live a healthy lifestyle in the hopes of having a positive, “undisturbed birth,” and how to bond with their baby after birth.
Practical exercises from Mindful Pregnancy include relaxation and comfort measures with the provided breathing exercises, guided meditations, and affirmations. There are also plenty of excellent nutritional tips throughout the book and recipes for gentle home remedies such as a postpartum herbal bath (p.212).
Some parents may not be interested in hypnobirthing or birth affirmations, and this may not be the book for them. But for students who are grappling with anxiety about their pregnancy or parenthood, or who are looking outside the box for prenatal information, I think this book could have a large benefit. We are facing large challenges in the world now; the compassion, self-care, and model of mindfulness that Donegan’s book exhibits could have a positive impact in the classroom. Birthing people need tremendous emotional support right now as they face uncertainty, and this book addresses that important, and often overlooked, need.
About Tracy Donegan
Tracy Donegan is a medically trained midwife, published author, and positive birth expert. Born in Ireland, Tracy has lived and worked on three continents and currently lives in California with her husband and two sons. She is the founder and President of GentleBirth, which combines brain science, birth science, and technology to empower parents to experience positive birth through preparation. GentleBirth is a global leader in childbirth education, with certified instructors who hail from more than a dozen countries and a mobile app available in 155 countries. The app provides guided visualizations, meditations, and breathing techniques to help prepare for mindful birth. Tracy is a popular guest speaker, representing GentleBirth at conferences around the world, and is at the forefront of the global positive birth movement. GentleBirth has partnered with Deepak Chopra to create Jiyo, a personalized well-being platform.
About Angela Hodge
Angela Hodge is a birth doula and childbirth educator serving the greater Seattle area. She currently teaches childbirth classes for Great Starts with the Parent Trust organization in Seattle, WA. In the past, she worked in educational book publishing, and became a doula after the birth of her three children. She believes that birth and parenthood is a magical and challenging transition in life, and every parent deserves support along the way.
TagsPregnancy Anxiety Mindfulness in Pregnancy Pregnancy Book Book Review