MANY, many women are terrified of childbirth. Not just a little bit nervous, I mean absolutely petrified. What fuels such fear? Gory birth stories from friends don’t help, nor do TV shows such as One Born Every Minute, with their dramatised portrayal of labouring women. A natural birth with no medical interventions wouldn’t be so gripping now, would it? Of course, there is always that thought of how on earth something that big is going to come out something so small… High levels of anxiety can stop you enjoying your pregnancy and have a huge physical impact on labour. Here’s how it works: fear triggers your fight or flight response, releasing a surge of adrenaline. This causes a drop in ‘happy hormones’, including endorphins (natural painkillers) and oxytocin (the love hormone), slowing labour and increasing tension.
The fight or flight response also directs blood to vital organs — and your uterus is not a vital organ. Blood flow to the uterus can fall by up to 65%, causing the muscles to become exhausted, short and spasm. Lactic acid build-up also makes everything more painful — it’s a vicious cycle.
To lose the fear, get informed. Read the right books and look at the right websites to learn more about positive birth. The more you find out, the more fascinated you will be, and the less your imagination will run away with you. My favourites include Childbirth Without Fear by Grantly Dick-Read and anything by Ina Mae Gaskin or check out positivebirthstories.com.
Next, seek out kindred spirits. Don’t listen to those well-meaning friends and switch TV channels if necessary. Find like-minded women at prenatal yoga, birth workshops, events such as Positive Birth Movement meet-ups (positivebirthmove-ment.org), and on Facebook groups such as Irish Positive Birth. Explain to your partner how you feel and get their support, too. On the big day their knowledge and attitude is as important as yours. If you are especially anxious, perhaps due to a history of depression or a previous traumatic birth, talk to your GP or midwife — counselling is available.
Most of all be prepared by learning skills that will turn you into a calm birthing mama. Relaxation methods, breathing techniques, labour positions and positive affirmations can all help. The more you know, the more confident you’ll feel — if one doesn’t work, there are more in the bag so you stay in control of your baby’s birth. And if you’re in control, you won’t panic and let The Fear take over…
First published in the Irish Daily Mail. July 5, 2016.