Baby Steps Blog

Ten Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety About Birth

We all grow and change during pregnancy – some of that growth we can see from the outside, as we gain our healthy share of weight to nourish our unborn babies. But lots of the growth and change during pregnancy comes in the way that we see ourselves. After all I am not just me anymore – there’s a baby in there!

bs blog_041114And then there’s the growth and change that comes when we think about giving birth to our babies. That baby has to make the journey to our arms – and there is no magic crystal ball to tell us what the journey of birth will be like for us. Most women describe their birthing experience as “one of the peak experiences of my life” – but we’ve all heard the stories. Maybe the woman who tells you a scary story would say it was a peak. Sometimes there are women who can’t even talk about their births – for them it was a peak negative experience.

The research says that somewhere between 6-10% of pregnant women suffer “intense fear” when they think about labor and birth. That’s before it even happens. And even if you’re one of the other 90-94%, watching The Baby Story and other childbirth-centered programs can make your fears worse instead of better, as there’s little chance to process what you saw before another story comes on. That’s not good!

Here’s ten ways to keep the Dread out of Delivery.

1. Don’t wait until your “labor day.”

If you feel afraid today, pretending probably won’t help. (Yes, you can make it to your due date and beyond. But fear – and the high stress levels it brings, with the hormone cortisol – can hamper your labor. Hard to open up when you are so scared.

What to do? Find some good information. About Pregnancy and Childbirth is actually a great website – reliable info, and the great mind of Robin Elise Weiss, a Lamaze teacher and mother of eight who says, “Pregnancy is my life”!

Take a class. Moms usually start Lamaze around 28 weeks of pregnancy. You can also take a Baby Basics or a Breastfeeding Basics class here at BMH – take a look at our website to see what’s coming up. Getting together in person with other pregnant moms and learning about your body and your baby can go a long way.

There is also local prenatal yoga classes that can help you enjoy the changes in your body and become more trusting and confident of what you are able to do.

2. Figure out what is triggering your fear.

Understanding why you are afraid is a big first step toward easing your fear. This is a hard one to talk about, and probably we could spend a whole morning talking about reasons why we are afraid of childbirth in our society. Here’s a starter list to think about – maybe it will help you get brave and creative as you think about your own life.

  • Maybe you don’t trust your body. This could come from childhood experiences of pain, or illness, or a family whose storyline says to be a woman is some kind of less-than-human thing.
  • Too many people have told you scary stories. After all – when’s the last time you walked up to a random mother and said, “You are brave and strong! You have kids!” Truly, we all ought to do it! Nurse theorist Reva Rubin suggested that we all do “research by case study” when we are pregnant – wanting to hear all the stories. And then at some point we realize that enough is enough! You can do that whenever you want.
  • Coming from a family where you were never sure what normal is, and knew that no matter what you said or did, something crazy was likely to happen, over which you had no control. Pretty hard to believe birth could hold anything good…
  • History of miscarriage or stillbirth. In this situation, you know something about birth – but it’s hard to believe your body is strong, competent and can build a healthy baby.
  • Abuse in your past. It is just not fair – but if we were sexually abused as children, or assaulted when we were teens or young women, or we have emotional abuse in our past, we are more likely to struggle with giving up to the overwhelming power of birth.

3. Consider therapy

If you’ve struggled with feelings of low self-worth or depression in the past, you may already have a counselor who would be great to work with. If not – talk to your doctor or your midwife. There are wonderful people out there in the community who would be glad to help you get healthy for your baby’s birth!

4. Learn relaxation skills..

Lamaze and hypnobirthing classes are one place to do this – as are prenatal yoga classes, and relaxation classes. You might find yourself a book if you learn well that way The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook is a classic. Just sitting back, putting a hand on your chest, and noticing your breathing is a start. These skills are really useful when you are a new mom, too!

5. Share your fears…

With your doctor, your partner, your mom, a trusted friend, the doula you plan to have at your birth. Someone who will NOT say “Oh, that’s silly.”

I can give you a quick list right off the top of my head of things moms have told me over the year: Fear of needles, fear of tearing, fear of pain, fear of strangers walking into the room, fear of not being listened to. Have I hit yours yet?

Sharing your fears will help you – just saying it can make it better – and it will help your partner, or friend, or doula, and also it will help your doctor, midwife or nurse take better care of you because we will understand where you’re coming from

6. Address your fears in your birth plan

Some of the birth plans you find on line can be scary! But if you write us a note that says, “I’m really scared of needles” or “Please make sure you announce yourself as soon as you knock on my door in the hospital” – it will really help us. It’s not just another day in your life – it’s your birthing day.

Read a wonderful article by Penny Simkin, a pioneer for woman-centered childbirth care about her research.

7. Use a doula.

Here at BMH, we are so blessed to have a group of woman who are experienced at helping women give birth. They give physical, social and emotional support to you and your partner, while your nurse, doctor and midwife give nursing and medical support. You can find out more about our doula program on Facebook.

8. Shut out negative stories.

Cultivate the art of smiling and saying “thank you so much!” It’s good practice for the eighteen years, when lots of people will be giving you advice about how to parent your child. You may also need to block yourself from The Baby Channel and YouTube if you can tell they are hurting you instead of helping.

9. Be open-minded about pain relief – and the “right” way to birth

I am constantly thrilled and amazed by the good decisions that mothers make. In the past year I’ve had a couple of moms who chose to have a cesarean section – after a long discussion with their doctor or midwife – knowing that the risks of a vaginal birth, whether physically or mentally, were just too much for them.

Other moms have worked through their fears and had happy vaginal births. Some moms have been thrilled to have a birth without any drugs – others thought they would go all-natural and ended up using pain medications of various sorts.

Learn as much as you can, grow as much as you can – then you can make your choices from a position of strength. Strong women, healthy babies!!

10. Know your options.

The authors of A Good Birth, A Safe Birth had a chapter entitled “If you don’t know your options, you haven’t got any options.” Truer words were never said! Call the Birthing Center, ask for a tour. Write down questions. Talk to friends, talk to your mom and people your mom’s age that you like and trust. Go to About Pregnancy and Childbirth  and read some of Robin Elise Weiss’s great work there.

And know that all this good work will pay off – in a birth that’s good, and safe, and baby in your arms!

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4 Responses to Ten Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety About Birth

  1. Michelle April 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    I love this post. For me, I found taking a class and reading about birth helped take the “unknowns” out of the process. Knowledge removed fear. I needed to have a plan about what I would DO at each phase in labor. Plan- of-action removed fear. I surrounded myself with people who believed in birth and believed in me. Love removed fear.

    • Dawn Kersula RN April 22, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      I like the idea of having a plan to DO! Even if things change and you don’t end up doing exactly what you thought you would – thinking it through ike that makes such a difference. And – I think there’s actually a Bible verse that says “perfect love casts out fear”. Perfect love is pretty impossible to find in our lives – but being surrounded by as much love as possible is a real miracle thing!

  2. Janet April 13, 2014 at 12:44 am #

    Regular exercise and daily relaxation, that’s what helped me manage labor. Getting to know my body and how it moves so that I could listen to it and move in the ways that felt right. Relaxation was key for me, reserving strength for pushing and keeping stress hormones down which then keeps pain levels down. It also helps to talk with your labor support about what helps you to relax and how you would like to bring your baby into your arms. That way they can advocate for you and you can focus on laboring. Listen to and read positive birth experiences to keep anxiety down. Great post Dawn, and love the promotion of doula support!

    • Dawn Kersula RN April 22, 2014 at 11:34 am #

      Always, always, being in that position of strength is a powerful help! Being surrounded by people who will listen to you makes all the difference in the world. Thanks for your comment!

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