We live in a society where many women are terrified of childbirth. We are constantly inundated with stories and images of birth complications, pain and trauma. It's no wonder that birth is something that many women fear. But maybe it's the fear that is contributing to longer and more painful labours with higher rates of complications? Does fear breed pain, which breeds more fear? Let's take a look at the cycle.
There is a connection between fear and pain. The efficiency of uterine contractions depends on your hormonal, circulatory and nervous system all working together, and fear upsets these systems by producing stress hormones that counteract hormones that your body produces to enhance labour progress and relieve pain. As a result, labour is longer and more painful.
Fear also causes a physiological reaction that reduces blood flow, and thus oxygen, to the uterus. An oxygen-deprived muscle will tire quickly and will lead to increased pain.
Lastly, fear produces muscle tension. Tight muscles not only hurt more, but they struggle to work in harmony and open the cervix. Normally, the contractions of the upper muscles of the uterus, together with the relaxation of the lower muscles work to dilate the cervix. Fear affects the lower muscles, causing them to tighten rather than relax. As a result, the muscles of the upper uterus contract against the tight muscles of the lower uterus, producing a lot of pain with little progress.
Perception is Everything
It is our perception of a situation that matters. Two people can be in the same situation and one can be stressed about it, while the other is not. When you look at labour you can decide how to interpret the situation. If you see it as and natural and beautiful process, then it doesn’t have to be stressful. If you see labour as threatening and terrifying, you will go into fight or flight mode, causing slow labour progress and increased pain.
Reduce Fear & Increase Relaxation
Some fear of labour is perfectly normal, resulting from anxiety about the unknown and individual experience with pain. However, unresolved fears can impede your labour. Here are some suggestions to help reduce fear and keep the normal birth hormones following:
1) Read inspiration stories about birth and seek out women who have had positive birth experiences.
2) Try to avoid being around women who like to tell you how awful birth is.
3) Address your fears about birth before labour starts. What do you specifically fear about birth? Do you fear pain? A cesarean? Problems with the baby? Talk about your fears with your partner, friend, childbirth educator or doula.
4) Be informed. The more you know, the less afraid you will be.
5) Surround yourself with fearless labour support because fear is contagious. Try not to have anyone who sees birth as a horror story around you while you are in labour. Consider hiring a doula.
6) Warmth, low lights, privacy and the feeling of safety, support and love will reduce fear.
7) Use a bath or slow, deep breathing to relax the whole body.
8) Total surrender and relaxation between contractions will allow you to conserve your energy and further promote relaxation.
9) Use mental imagery as a relaxation tool.
10) Touch and massage promote relaxation.
11) Remember that pain in labour is normal and natural. Try to welcome and surrender to each contraction, as each one brings your baby closer to your arms.
Kiss-ass doula, pretty okay-ish mom, spreadsheet enthusiast, punctuality freak, ice cream addict.