In being human, experiencing fear is normal and even beneficial to our survival. We have hormones, like the famous adrenaline, that trigger fear in us when there is a perception of danger, giving us a chance to respond accordingly and fast (fight or flight).
However, if we overreact to fear or are not able to manage it in order to navigate the situation at hand effectively, it can become debilitating. There can a reluctance to do what needs to be done or if there are sustained levels of stress hormones in our system, it can hinder other hormones that assist with our coping and wellbeing.
When it comes to birth, some fear is normal. It is normal for a mother to fear for her wellbeing and her baby as a basic survival instinct. In small doses, this is can be a healthy form of fear if it triggers an urge to prepare well for the anticipated process.
If a laboring mother experiences fear, adrenaline is released into the blood stream. If adrenaline levels continue to be sustained, then cortisol (the stress hormone) levels rise accordingly.
If adrenaline and cortisol are released, and the fear not addressed and resolved before the 2nd stage of labor, it hinders the production of oxytocin and endorphins.
This can be due to many reasons, for example:
- negative expectations or memories of birth (first time mother/ poor past birthing experience/ high risk)
- a lack of coping mechanisms or preparation
- a stressful environment (noise and distractions, lack of privacy, lack of inclusion in decision making, harsh lighting…)
- Some fear can be triggered as labor intensifies as a natural reaction to pain
The body needs to be relaxed, and the mind at peace during birth, for oxytocin production and release.
1. Oxytocin causes contractions
2. Endorphins act as natures pain relief during labor.
3. The release of adrenaline and cortisol naturally counteracts oxytocin and endorphin release.
FEAR can slow down and even stall labor.
FEAR can make the whole experience itself unpleasant and lead to the use of unnecessary interventions.
How to work with FEAR:
Oxytocin is the 'FEEL GOOD' hormone.
Do things that make you feel good during labor, yes! Partners can be prepared to help with this.
Does your partner know how to boost your oxytocin?
Loved ones can be guided to avoid 'stressing out' around you.
Is there someone that wants to be at your birth that is easily stressed out OR something that easily stresses you out?
The high levels and fluctuating hormones of birth make you very sensitive to the environment and even the attitudes and feelings of those around you. Choose who to invite to the labor and delivery room and who will wait to meet the baby later.
How will you ensure quiet and privacy and feelings of safety and respect in your birthing room?
Read on to learn HOW to plan ahead!
minimize stressors > feel safe
1. One of the most important things is to take good Childbirth Education Classes so the birth process is not a complete mystery. No need to stress-out about the 'unknown' when you can educate yourself all about it.
Knowledge is power, but too much knowledge can be overwhelming and confusing. Google can be a pregnant woman’s convenient friend at times but can also be a source of outdated, inaccurate or fear-based information.
Find a local, trained person, to consult with for evidence-based information.
Then from there, specific fears can turn into questions and questions into answers, suggestions and tips.
2. Another great way to ease fear is to be choosy about the books and media about birth that you are looking at.
Choose positive birth stories, read positive affirmations, write a journal of hopes and dreams for the birth.
How do you imagine your birth? Visualize the best-case scenario...
Take the parts in the movie where the woman's water breaks and suddenly she is in active labor and about to push the baby out in the car and everyone is STRESSED OUT and in a hysterical panic... with grain of salt!
Thankfully, that is hardly the way it happens.
Find movies with a positive depiction of women giving birth WITHOUT FEAR, for example, Organic Birth (DVD) or The Business of Being Born (DVD). There are plenty on Youtube as well but the point again is, be very selective.
(For ideas on good books to read, take a look at our Lending Library here)
3. Writing a Birth Plan <== click here to create one) can help organize a birthing environment you will feel safe in.
A Birth Plan is not just a piece of paper to hand to the Nurse.
It serves YOU above all.
In a way, it helps you imagine and 'rehearse' for your birthing day.
Sure birth is unpredictable, but having a GOAL and a PLAN to achieve that goal, is over half the preparation for childbirth!
4. Choose people that will give comfort and support that does not feel 'judgmental' or like 'pressure' to you, even if some fear does arise. People that understand how to meet your fluctuating needs in childbirth, with understanding. Loved one's in the room can help make us feel safe. However, is ok to be selective if you have a feeling a particular person's presence could be a stressor or distraction!
- Are you and your partner on the same page about Childbirth?
- Are you and your OB or Midwife on the same page about your options, wishes and fears?
- Are the people that will be with you in the room prepared to support you emotionally, hands-on and in good decision making?
- Will there be stressors or distractions? Can you avoid them? How will you cope?
These are just a few good questions to help you plan and prepare yourself and those who wish to be there for you.
5. During labor, there are techniques that work very well to calm feelings of fear when they naturally arise:
- proper breathing
- deep relaxation
- prayer/ meditation/ ritual
Pick, learn and practice the techniques that would work for you ahead of time so that during labor, you will find relief quickly when you need it.
Affirmations, prayers and meditations can be written down and brought to the labor room for you to read.
Comfort items from home are comforting to look at or hold. Consider packing some small sentiments in your birthing bag.
6. A Doula can also be a perfect addition to a woman’s support system when it comes to coping with fear.
The extra prenatal support can help one
- explore fears
- learn vital coping techniques
- help turn your childbirth wishes into plans you can count on
Most importantly, during LABOR AND BIRTH, a Doulas hands-on attendance and calming influence in the room can guide the birthing experience to the mother's best wishes.
I wish you a FEARLESS birthing day!
What has been your experience with Fear, Pain and Birth so far?
Did this article bring up any questions?
Please do share your story with us in comments below!
I AM AFRAID THAT________________________________________________?
WHEN I AM AFRAID, I _________________________________________________?
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