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Helping to manage the fears of childbirth

Is your approaching due date leaving you fearful? Naturopath (and mum) Stephanie Hamilton discusses the fear that many mums-to-be can feel in the lead up to childbirth and gives some helpful tips to lead you to feeling excited and prepared.
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Helping to manage the fears of childbirth
Fear of labour is common and understandable for many new mums. Giving birth is something that no one can really prepare for. 

Often women are surrounded by horror stories of other women’s experiences: it was so painful, it went on for hours, I didn't know what was happening, and I felt out of control. 

Naturally fear emerges in women who are about to have their first childbirth experience and who don’t have any idea of what to expect.

Fear is counter-productive to childbirth and research has suggested that the more fearful the mother is, the longer her labour duration will be. 

In a study published in Epidemiology, involving over 2000 women, the average duration of the active phase of labour was 47 minutes longer in women with a fear of childbirth compared to women without fear. The study also suggested that the women who felt a fear of childbirth were more likely to deliver with instrumental assistance or caesarean section compared with women who didn't feel this fear.

From a primitive perspective, if the mother had any concerns or fears about her safety whilst in labour, her body would naturally and instinctively slow down the process. This would allow the mother to get to a safe place to deliver her child, whether that is away from predators or severe natural elements like flooding or fire. 

Fear stimulates the secretion of stress hormones, but our body doesn't know if the fear is valid or something we have just made up in our mind and so the effect on labour is the same.

In today’s culture, is this fear of childbirth warranted? What are women most fearful of? And how can this fear be calmed?

Suffering vs Pain
Probably one of the biggest fears amongst pregnant women is the pain of childbirth. While pain relief is available for childbirth,  many women want to do it without pain relief but are still fearful of the pain that they may have to endure. 

The reality is that the body certainly does go through some very strong and radical changes as labour progresses. It is natural for the woman to experience quite intense physical sensations. Having some acceptance of these strong sensations and some tools to help manage them better may help calm and relax the body. 

There are many ways to help allay the fears of childbirth which may even have you enjoy the experience. Here are a few:
  • Speak to your obstetrician or midwife about your fears and concerns. If they do not offer an empathetic ear, or you are left feeling unsupported find another practitioner, or at least speak to a birth assistant who will help you work through these fears.
  • Find childbirth courses and classes that explain the sequence of events so the science and the unchangeable things of labour are known. This will help you feel a little more prepared about what kind of things to expect, like how long each stage of labour roughly goes for, what happens in the baby as he or she descends down the birth canal, what positions are helpful during the contractions, and how your partner and other birth assistants can support you. Workshops like Calmbirth® can also give you tools to help manage the strong sensations of childbirth and help manage your fears.
  • Do prenatal yoga throughout pregnancy. The breath work is foundational to managing the pain of childbirth. 
  • Think about your birth preferences, but don’t be too attached to them. There are some things that cannot be controlled. Remember this is not your birth, it is your baby’s and they are an independent little being who won’t be totally controlled by your birth plans. Relinquish some of the effort to them! 
  • Trust and believe in your body’s wisdom. Consider saying positive affirmations to yourself everyday like “my body knows exactly how to birth my baby safely”. Remind yourself that women have been giving birth since we began. Animals do it every day! We are living in a time (and thankfully a place) where technology and medicine prevents most life threatening and serious things happening to our mothers and babies. Allow your body to just do it without trying to control it with your mind. And enjoy it!
While too much reading about childbirth can actually increase the fear and worry and take away the instinctive nature of giving birth, if you feel you need to read or watch something  to help you prepare, I recommend the following books and films:
  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
  • Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr Sarah J Buckley
  • Birthing From Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz
  • Birth As We Know It - film
  • The Business Of Being Born - film

References available on request

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