Birth is often surrounded by fear. In the U.S. our media does a good job perpetuating that as scary births certainly make for better drama on television. Unfortunately a lot of women’s preconceived notions surrounding birth come from the media. We as a society tend to share the horror stories we hear and less about our positive experiences. This again drives home the fear women feel about birth.
What specific fears about birth are common?
Often women report being afraid of the pain of childbirth. Will they be able to handle it? What will it feel like? How intense will this birth experience be? Working with a childbirth educator, doula, and your care provider can help you understand the process more and help you with the fear of pain. For many knowledge is power. Understanding what labor may look like and an idea of what to expect may help you tackle this.
Will my baby be unhealthy? We all want a healthy perfect baby. The thought of our baby being sick is frightening. There are fears of complications during labor. These complications may lead to a sick baby or sick mother. One complication may be the fear of not being able to birth at all.
One of the most common are fears surrounding the actual pushing part of labor. What will it feel like? Tearing goes along with this as another huge fear. What if I tear to my rectum? What about episiotomies? In recent years episiotomies are not routine. They are done in instances where medically necessary. Doctors and midwives are working to reduce tearing as much as they can, maybe with perineal massage, or promoting a good position for birth.
The fear of the unknown of it all may be the scariest. Or hardest to deal with. The loss of control and not knowing what it will all be like can be hard on one’s mind.
What happens to us in birth when we are so fearful? Does it matter if we are afraid in labor? The answer is there are effects of fear seen in birth. Believe it or not your pain will actually increase with the more fear you have. When you are fearful you will increase your muscle tension. The more tense you are the more pain you may experience. Especially in birth as you need to loosen and let go. Your heart rate and breathing may increase. Neither you nor baby want to be in distress during labor.
There are hormones at play here. In labor oxytocin is released and it is the hormone that encourages the uterus to contract and keep working. This hormone also helps you to be calmer during labor and is responsible for the “birth high” felt right after delivery. Some people call it the “love hormone.” Adrenaline is a stress hormone. When we are fearful or stressed adrenaline is released. Adrenaline may increase your heart rate and increase your breathing. In labor adrenaline neutralizes the effects of oxytocin on your body. So adrenaline will actually affect your uterine contractions and reduce your ability to be calm.
The more you can reduce your fear the better oxytocin can serve your body.
Adrenaline will reduce and in turn won’t be interfering with your oxytocin. Try to take comfort in knowing your fears are common. Every woman will process some anxiety about labor and birth. So equip yourself with what you need to help keep that fear in check.
Support in birth can go a long way. Surround yourself with a team you trust.