Posted: May 06, 2013 11:00 AM
Fears about labor typically revolve around pain, but what if your fear goes far beyond that? If fear of the unknown or complications are holding you back from enjoying your pregnancy and causing stress that's bad for you and your baby, it's time to think about getting help.

Let's face it — it's rare to find a mom who doesn't find herself at least a little anxious or worried about labor. She's likely asking or at least thinking:

  • How bad will labor hurt?
  • How long with labor last?
  • Will everything be okay with my baby?

These are completely normal questions on women's minds — most of the time. What if fear about labor and childbirth becomes so stressful you can't relax or enjoy pregnancy, or even stress out your fetus?

Psychotherapist and parenting expert Katie Hurley (LCSW) says, "Stress and anxiety can affect the health of both baby and mother. Panic attacks come on suddenly and are generally fairly short in duration, but they do put a lot of stress on the body. Anxiety is likely to cause sleepless nights, and exhaustion and depression lead to poor eating habits and insufficient exercise. It's important to nurture the soul during pregnancy in order to stay calm and healthy for the baby. In some cases, excessive stress and anxiety can lead to premature labor and/or miscarriage."

Staying calm when you're scared may be easier said than done, but you can take steps to try your best to do it.

Focus on coping techniques — before labor starts

As a childbirth educator and doula, I encourage moms to think about what helps them relax and de-stress on a regular day — pregnant or not. Whether it's taking a walk, listening to music, or getting a massage, it will be easier to call on the relaxation response during labor because you'll already know what works for you.

Take a comprehensive childbirth class that teaches not only what to expect during the labor and birth process, but also ways to reduce pain, relax and feel confident in yourself and your body. It can go a long way with reducing fear and anxiety about labor.

When to get help

If your fears about labor and birth start interfering with your life, it's time to seek professional help.

Hurley explains, "When fear shifts to debilitating anxiety, it's time to get help. Intrusive thoughts that include a specific fear of giving birth or negative thoughts about the health of the baby should be considered a sign of anxiety that needs treatment."

It's OK if you don't fit the ideal happy pregnant woman you see in magazines. What's important is you're able to take care of yourself and your growing baby by facing your fears in a supportive environment.

Where to get help

It is important to find a psychotherapist who is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and works with women experiencing anxiety.

Your OB or midwife may be able to refer you to a therapist with special experience working with pregnant moms. Hurley explains, "It is important to find a psychotherapist who is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and works with women experiencing anxiety about giving birth. No two psychotherapists are the same. It's important to find a good match for the treatment to be effective."

bottom line^ Don't feel embarrassed or ashamed. You and your baby will have the best start together if you get help to face your fears about labor.

Read more about preparing for labor and childbirth

Are childbirth classes a waste of time?
The truth about prenatal depression
How to write a birth plan