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Empowered Birth: Lessons from sport psychology for your maternity journey

Dr Carla Meijen

I can definitely see similarities between sport psychology and pregnancy/motherhood. During my pregnancy I took care of my body like an athlete. I listened to my body what it needed at that moment, and before giving birth I made sure all of my preparations were done, and I made time for myself to get ready for ‘my game’. I have never been that determined and confident about myself and I had trust in the people around me while giving birth. Visualizing waves of the sea helped me to deal with contractions. Although I was induced, labour went quite easy. I still believe that taking care of body and mind (I’ve worked on body awareness and coped with a lot of different emotions) helped me to facilitate labour. Once my son was born I’ve spent a lot of time alone with him. I took my time to recover while keeping calm by slow breathing so my heartrate would go down in order to connect with my baby. I can definitely say I relied on myself and was ‘in the flow’.

Justine Loosveldt
Sport and Exercise Psychologist and Clinical Psychologist

Pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood is a journey in life that can be both amazing and overwhelming. Often the societal narrative and expectations are set out in such a way that pain and exhaustion can seem inevitable. Carla uses her expertise to skilfully demonstrate that the way we enable our bodies and minds to work together in harmony through sport can be applied effectively to the childbearing journey by conceptualising it as a physical and emotional journey with which we have our own individual relationship, ability to plan and make our own. The extraordinary thing for me as a psychiatrist, rugby player and coach is how our skills as parents can be applied back to sport, for example, as more receptive and nurturing coaches and more effective team players.

Dr Rebecca Syed Sheriff
Consultant Psychiatrist and Senior Clinical Research Fellow

Empowered Birth helps women to find and fully feel their natural strength. Dr Meijen helps mothers to understand that endurance is an internal resource, that exists within them, waiting to be tapped. This book is inspiring and reassuring in equal measure.

Natalie Meddings
doula and author of How to Have a Baby

As an exercise psychologist, researcher of physical activity during the perinatal period, and an active mother myself, I am an advocate of learning from the sport and exercise field and applying the knowledge to the maternity journey. From our research we now further understand the challenges and benefits of engaging with physical activity during this time. Psychological techniques that are fine-tuned during physical activity behaviour, such as self-talk to cheer yourself on, or learning to set process goals, can benefit those who are keen to stay active throughout their pregnancy, and these can be drawn on during labour and beyond.

Dr Hayley Mills
Chair of the expert group commissioned by the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMO) for the development of the Postpartum Physical Activity Guidelines.

This is a book I wish I could have read prior to my experience of becoming a mother. As a physiologist I know little about the ways that Psychology could have helped me through these experiences. This book will provide valuable detail for those about to embark on the journey of motherhood.

Dr Jessica Hill
Associate Professor in Physiology at St Mary’s University

As a sport and exercise psychologist, I have long been fascinated by the role the mind plays in sport. Having then applied many a mental strategy during both of my home births, I am also a huge advocate of educating parents-to-be about the role their mind can play before, during and after labour, and helping them to use it effectively. “Empowered birth” is a readable, practical book, filled with useful tips and techniques for you to discover and use throughout your labour and beyond!

Juliette Lloyd
Mother and Sport Psychologist

Being a sport psychologist while becoming a mother has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am confident that what I have learned and practiced in my professional role has enhanced my own journey of becoming a mother and I’m thrilled that Carla has decided to share with others the powerful lessons and skills that sport psychology can offer in this space. I know that these skills have the potential to make a very positive impact on new moms!

Dr. Chelsi Day
Clinical Sport Psychologist and Certified Mental Performance Coach

I whole heartedly agree with using what you know from your days as an athlete, or learning skills from the mindset of an athlete, is a good set of tools to have as you prepare for and go through labor, childbirth and during postpartum. Focusing on what is right in front of you, staying in the moment, a positive, flexible mindset, deep breathing and how to use breathing for strength and remaining calm were all skills I used during my maternity journey that I learned in my days as a competitive and professional ice skater

Lynette Damir
Registered Nurse Founder of SwaddleDesigns

The positive mental attitude I learnt from competitive sports certainly helped me cope with the challenges of childbirth. Everyone can benefit from the strength, wellbeing and positive thinking honed by (endurance) sports, especially during childbirth.

Melissa Hogenboom
Author of The Motherhood Complex

Like many expectant mothers I made a birthing plan… which during labour then turned into fiction! By practicing what I preach as an applied sport psychologist I was able to maintain a sense of calm determination and enjoy the experience. This book, the first of its kind, is well worth a read in considering how to apply psychological strategies for the benefit of your own birthing experience.

Professor Tracey Devonport

As someone who is a practicing Sport Psychologist teaching mental skills to athletes every day I am disappointed I never thought to use these skills when I went on my own maternity journey to become a mum as it makes such perfect sense to do so. Dr Meijen has entwined the benefits of sport psychology beautifully with the challenges of maternity to show how we can use the strengths-based processes we use daily with athletes to make that time when women are pregnant and birthing far easier, more enjoyable and with that important feeling of being more in control.

Dr Josephine Perry
Sport Psychologist and author of I Can: The teenage athlete’s guide to mental fitness


Paperback isbn: 9781914110245
Pages: 190
Publication Date: June 12th 2023


£16.99Add to basket

Table of contents

  1. Ready, steady…. Sport psychology and your maternity journey
  2. Seeing the maternity journey as a positive challenge, not a threat
  3. Checking in with your emotions
  4. Birth plan overboard! Goal-setting and goal-revision
  5. ‘I could imagine the baby descending down the birth canal’: Imagery as a strategy for labour and beyond
  6. ‘I got this’: Self-talk as a strategy in your toolkit
  7. The power of the breath: Breathing and mindfulness-based strategies
  8. Focus: Being in the moment and letting go of the uncontrollables
  9. The team behind the team: Engaging your support network
  10. Bringing it home: The post-partum period

References and Further Reading

About the book

Giving birth is often compared to a marathon, a long journey that requires grit, endurance, pacing and patience, pain management and motivation to stay on track. Despite the wealth of information that is available, women and their birth partner don’t always feel prepared for the diversions that could come up on the maternity journey.

Now imagine how sport psychology could help you?

Dr Carla Meijen explains how pregnant women can use mental strategies commonly adopted by sports people to help focus on their strengths to see the childbirth experience as a positive challenge, not a threat.

Dr Meijen outlines the basic principles of sport and endurance psychology and shows how these principles can be applied to the pregnancy, birth, and post-partum experience. You will learn what approaching this experience as a positive challenge could look like, by drawing on and adding to what you already have in your mental skills toolbox, potentially without even knowing it.

Psychological strategies covered in the book include setting and adapting goals, imagery, self-talk, breathing and mindfulness-based strategies, engaging your social support network, as well as focus strategies such as routines.

In the book Carla draws from interviews with Olympians, world champions, personal trainers, as well as non-competitive exercisers, to give an insight how women from a wide range of backgrounds have benefitted from sport psychology during labour.

You don’t need to be a champion athlete or be involved in competitive sport to use the many benefits of sport psychology. Pregnancy and the post-partum period can be a rollercoaster and this book is aimed at helping you develop and learn about mental strategies to empower yourself during the maternity journey and beyond.

About the author

Dr Carla Meijen is an accredited sport psychologist with the British Psychological Society and registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, and she works as an Associate Professor in Applied Sport Psychology at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. In her research she focuses on the mental demands of endurance performance, stress and emotions in sport and how to turn pressure in a positive challenge. Dr Meijen has provided expert analysis for publications including the New York Times, Runners World, The Sunday Times Magazine, Cycling Weekly, and the BBC. Carla is a mother and lives with her family in London.

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