Healthy Body

Mindfulness Matters During Pregnancy (and Beyond)—Here’s Why

A high-risk pregnancy may have led Nathalie Walton to Expectful—a holistic care platform for people who are pregnant, postpartum, or trying to conceive—but an overwhelming desire to help birthing people prioritize mental health led her to become the company’s CEO in September 2020.

A top executive at brands such as Ebay, Google, and Airbnb, Walton was ready to combine her personal interests in maternal health and well-being with her professional experience when an advisory role for Expectful opened up. Now she is one of the few Black female founders to raise millions in venture capital. And it’s all for the love of moms, Black moms in particular.

In the U.S., Black mothers are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is a statistic Walton is trying to help change.

“There’s such a toll that being a Black woman giving birth weighs on you,” she says. “You’re not given the same treatment as white women when you’re trying to do your best to bring a human into the world. You’re not seen as equal and it weighs on you.”

Expectful aims to support Black birthing people through its Black Mamas Meditate collection, a group of guided meditations about advocating for yourself, radical self-care, and mothering as liberation. “As a platform that’s centered on well-being and mental health, I thought one of the best ways I could help other Black women is helping them be seen and heard throughout the process,” Walton says. There’s also the Helping Hand program, which aims to make the subscription-based app accessible for all by offering free annual membership.

It’s all in a day’s work for Walton, who is a mom to her 2-year-old son Everett. Below, Walton talks about her own birthing story, the importance of maternal mental health, and her go-to advice for new parents.

Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Well+Good: Tell us more about your own birth story.

Walton: For me, pregnancy and birthing was such a humbling experience. At my 20-week appointment, the doctors told me I was at a higher risk for preterm labor and could give birth at any time. As someone who wanted to control everything, including my pregnancy, it was scary because I’d done everything I was supposed to do, and I couldn’t help myself at this point.

Then there’s the added stress of being a Black woman and not being taken seriously…my mental health was not in a great place when it came time to give birth. I’m so grateful that I found Expectful and that allowed me to have at least some peace with the process. Within a week or so of getting into this meditative practice, I found that my condition stabilized. And I actually made it to term, which to me was incredible. Now that I know the science behind it, I understand why. Meditation is scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety in pregnancy and postpartum.

There’s so much focus on physical health during pregnancy, but why is mental health just as important?

During pregnancy, research shows that it’s important to reduce your stress and maintain healthy levels of cortisol because that can impact the baby and your well-being. And the whole postpartum period is an entirely different world. It can impact your own well-being and your relationship with your partner because your hormones are in flux.

In our society, there’s so much focus on the baby, but the mom really needs a lot of care because the transition to motherhood is such a delicate time.

How do you care for yourself as a Black woman, as a mom, a founder, and all of the hats you wear?

To be honest, there have been times when I don’t do that. One of the things that helped me in the first year of my child’s life and beyond was taking a solo vacation, even if it was just a weekend or a night away. When my son was about seven months old, I went to Napa for a night by myself. You can go to a local hotel or stay with a friend for a night. Getting away for 12 to 24 hours has been really critical to my mental health.

What advice do you have for new parents?

The best advice I can offer to anyone going through this is to figure out a way to control your mind. There are going to be so many factors you don’t have control over and there’s going to be a lot of frustration. If you can control your inner well-being, then you’re doing about as well as you can do.

 

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