As I opened my laptop this morning I saw an article on the Belly Belly website titled ‘Labour Pain – 8 Things That Can Make Labour Pain Worse’ (you can find the article here). As I skimmed over the page I noticed that the labour pain cause listed second was fear. As some of you know fear during pregnancy is something that I am super passionate about, and one of the reasons why I began teaching Hypnobirthing. So I thought I would share with you some things that I have learnt, and why I believe that fear has a much bigger impact on labour and birth than many people realise.
The reality is more and more women are becoming increasingly fearful of labour and birth. Dennis Walsh, a doctor in the UK recently said “it has never been safer to have a baby, yet women have never been more frightened of the process”. I’m sure many of my midwifery colleagues would agree with this.
Almost every woman will have at least a few fears about labour and birth. These differ for everyone, but some common ones include fear of losing control, fear for your health and your baby’s health, fear of pain and medical procedures and fear of the unknown. If you stop and take a moment to think about the upcoming birth of your baby, I can almost guarantee that some anxiety will surface. Perhaps some of these fears are things that you weren’t even aware of until now. This fear surrounding labour and birth comes from many different avenues. Often well meaning family and friends will share their horror stories, or perhaps you have a previous birth experience which you still carry some fear and anxiety from. Some women will have more fear than others, and this is completely normal. We each have different experiences that have shaped us, and often our subconscious mind holds onto these feelings and they surface during an emotional time, such as during pregnancy.
You may be thinking ‘So I do have some fears, but how can they have such a huge impact on my labour and birth?’. Remember, your uterus is a muscle that has one job – to grow and birth a baby. I’m sure you have heard of the fight or flight response (check out this link for a more detailed description). This is our body’s physiological response to real or perceived stress, and is essential in helping us to deal with threatening circumstances. When the fight or flight response is activated our body redirects blood and oxygen to the brain and our arms and legs in order to allow us to run away to safety or to fight. Whether this stress is a real threat, or more of a psychological threat our body reacts the same way. Our uterus is not part of this defence system, so blood is redirected away from this area. This is a HUGE concern as far as labour is concerned. Our uterus is a muscle, and muscles need oxygen in order to work effectively. If a woman’s stress response if activated, less oxygen is going to be directed to her uterus, and her labour may slow or stall, not to mention the increase in pain due to the lack of oxygen. This is a great study that discusses how the stress response can stop labour. The book Childbirth Without Fear by Grant Dick-Read covers this in great detail, and is a great read if you want to learn more about fear and how it leads to increased tension and pain.
Associate Professor Hannah Dahlen of the Australian College of Midwives said “Fear increases the release of adrenaline, which impacts on endorphins – a scared woman is more likely to have an epidural”. Adrenaline and catecholamine’s are both released throughout the body as part of the fight or flight response. Endorphins are our natural painkillers, and are said to be between 20-40 times more powerful than morphine. During labour a woman’s body secretes copious amounts of endorphins to help her manage the sensations of labour. If the stress response reduces endorphin secretion, it is quite likely that the woman will experience more pain. This is definitely not something that we want!
So you may be wondering how you can reduce these fears to make sure that they don’t get in the way of the positive birth that you are planning. Firstly, knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have about your body and the physiological process of birth, the less you will fear the unknown. Of course labour is unpredictable, but the more you know and understand about labour and birth the more prepared you will likely feel. Having good support from your caregivers and birth partner can be huge in reducing your level of fear. You need to be confident that your midwives, doctors and birth partners are ‘on the same page as you’, so to speak.
Hypnobirthing classes are the ultimate way to reduce your fear surrounding pregnancy and birth. I cover the physiology of birth in detail, and because our classes are either run privately or in small groups you have the opportunity to ask as many questions as you like so that you (and your birth partner) fully understand your body and the process of birth. I also discuss common hospital practices and procedures to make sure that you are fully aware of what you may encounter. Our course teaches you tools and techniques to help you to relax and release those pain killing endorphins. And of course we use hypnotherapy techniques to release fears from your subconscious mind, and to reprogram your brain to stop these fears from resurfacing.
Often couples say at the end of their course that they really have no fears anymore, and they are excited for their labour and birth. How awesome is that! Wouldn’t it feel great if you could think about your birth with excitement, not fear and anxiety?
If you would like more information or would like to book a Hypnobirthing class please contact me. Our next Group Hypnobirthing Course begins on the 1st of May, book now to avoid missing out!
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. How are you managing your fears about birth?