‘CAN mindfulness reduce fear of labour and postpartum depression?’ a newspaper headline asks.

It’s possibly the most ridiculous one I’ve read for some time. Being acquainted with the rigours of labour, and having run the gauntlet of postpartum depression twice, I’m astonished to see such ideas posited without considering the reality of giving birth for most women.

Telling women they can think and focus their way out of either sounds like a solution from Dr Quack’s Great Big Book of Faddy Pseudoscience. Mindfulness, while helpful in many situations, seems like the latest addition to a long list of birth fads. Fads that often turn mothers away from the modern medicine that can offer them the most relief during a long and complicated labour.

Dr Larissa Duncan, associate professor of family studies and human development at Wisconsin-Madison University, believes mindfulness – the practice of paying attention to the present moment – can be used to reduce depression and anxiety in expectant and postpartum mothers.

I challenge anyone attempting to squeeze something the size of a watermelon out of a walnut-sized opening to think of anything but the task at hand. Duncan’s study involved a midwife-led weekend with 30 third-trimester mothers-to-be, during which there was “forced mindfulness meditation” (rather counterintuitive it seems), mindful breathing, yoga and walking meditation. The women were intermittently given ice cubes to hold to highlight the distinction between “unpleasant sensations” and “calm moments”.

Sure, it’s a nice idea grounded in evidence that demonstrates the benefits of mindfulness – but I can’t help but distrust anything that refers to contractions that feel like you’re being split in two as an “unpleasant sensation”.

Eleven years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, I was active on a birth board on a popular website for expectant mums.

We were all due at the same time, for most of us it was our first baby, and would each discuss our plans for how we’d go about how taking control of the main event none of us had ever actually experienced. Despite the love and the support, this online community catalysed a subliminal sense of competition over who could have the most “natural” childbirth.

We were encouraged to write birth plans with our midwives. We all had such grand plans – home birth, no epidurals, water birth – most of which completely went out of the window as soon as the time came and reality bit. My fad of choice was hypno-birthing (I know, I know).

I resolved to master self-hypnosis for an “easy, comfortable, drug-free birth”. Knowing what I know now, I’m convinced those words were written by a) someone who has never given birth, and b) someone who doesn’t know the meaning of easy or comfortable.

Birth is not like attending a yoga class. It’s primal. Animalistic.

It’s sweaty and bloody and a feat of absolute endurance.

I was shocked by the bursting of my comforting hypno-bubble.

If I’d known what it was really like, I would have come with a different mindset. I would have worked on building my confidence around my body doing what it was designed for, rather than trying to memorise visualisation techniques and mantras. I managed through the first few hours of contractions before clawing for the gas and air. I’d also decided I wanted a water birth, so was rolling around the birthing pool like an angry buoy. When the gas and air canister was brought out, I knew any idea of a pain-free hypnobirth was dead.

My contractions were in full swing and my bathwater was cold. I was winched out and left shivering in a wet nightgown while the midwife tried to find more gas.

I was rapidly disabused of the notion that I had any control over the situation. No relaxation techniques could have prepared me for 28-and-a-half hours of back labour – when your baby is facing the wrong way and considerately pressing their skull into your lower spine.

If I hadn’t thought a medicalised birth was emblematic of a personal failing, I would have asked for the help I really needed hours earlier. The birth of my first child wouldn’t have become traumatic, and I wouldn’t have felt guilty about relying on medicine to support me through the most physically difficult day of my life.

Duncan believes mindfulness has reach beyond the birth itself. Undoubtedly, being able to take each moment as it is is a helpful skill to have when your word is flipped by crying, colic and sleep deprivation.

But when mindful breathing doesn’t work, then what? It’s especially troubling that this study makes links between mindfulness and preventing postnatal depression – something that is so often overwhelmingly hormonal.

As it is, a recent study from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists showed 81 per cent of the women surveyed had suffered mental health issues during and after pregnancy, but only around seven per cent received the specialist care they needed.

These women need real support and medical assistance. I worry that this sort of thing could be used to plug the gaps.

New mums already feel like a failure often enough. This feels like they’re being handed another stick to beat themselves with. Resources for new mothers are short already. I’m extremely wary of any idea that tells women everything they need is in their heads.