Posted: Jun 25, 2013 12:00 PM
 
Yes — when you're ready to give birth, your body should be physically ready to handle labor's tough demands. But what about your mind? Learn how to move beyond the fear of giving birth. Feel confident about your birthing day by preparing not only not physically but mentally as well.

We've all heard a birth horror story. Or two. Or three. Sometimes it seems we ladies like to see who can top whom when it comes to sharing every scary little thing that "could" go wrong. But all that one-upping really does is perpetuate the fear many expectant mothers have about the "big day." Does fear have to play a role in your labor and birth? Learn why you should chuck the anxiety and instead feel empowered.

How fear negatively affects labor

I loved almost everything about being pregnant with my daughter. I had that glow that some women get. I felt well. I even had extra energy despite already chasing my two older children around. But when I thought about her actual birth, my whole demeanor changed. I could feel the adrenaline taking over and my heart pounding. Why? Because my husband was working on a commercial job site with spotty cell phone coverage, far from where we lived. The worry I felt about not reaching him in time was palpable. It was real, I hated feeling that anxiety and I wondered if it was taking a toll on my body and my unborn baby. Even worse, I wondered if it would affect the course of my daughter's labor and birth.

The stress hormones divert oxygen-rich blood away from the uterus (where it is needed). This makes the birthing muscles of the uterus tense up and constrict when they should be the most relaxed. When the muscles aren't able to function in harmony, they don't function properly — often resulting in more pain.

Turns out, fear can negatively affect a woman's labor. When an expectant mother has unresolved fear or anxiety, then before and during labor, a stress hormone called catecholamine is released. This triggers the body to go into a "fight, flight or freeze" response. But the uterus — by nature's infinitely wise design — isn't part of a woman's defense system, so the catecholamine doesn't play a positive role. Instead the stress hormones divert oxygen-rich blood away from the uterus (where it is needed). This makes the birthing muscles of the uterus tense up and constrict when they should be the most relaxed. When the muscles aren't able to function in harmony, they don't function properly — often resulting in more pain. As a woman experiences more pain, she becomes more afraid. This pain-and-tension cycle can be tough, but it's not an impossible cycle to break.

The mind/body connection

When I learned what my fear could do, I began investigating the mind/body connection in childbirth. I knew I had to rid myself of my fears surrounding labor and birth, and I knew it was probably going to take some work on my part (and my husband's). Words and thoughts are far more powerful than most of us give them credit for. They have an energy all their own. Slowly but surely, I began to tune out the negative thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations about my upcoming labor and birth. While I was lying in a relaxed state, I made statements to myself like "My body and my baby are working in harmony," or "My body is making a baby that is perfect for me," or even "I see my baby coming to me as my body gently opens." Success or failure depends upon behavior and beliefs, but at the root of our behavior and beliefs are feelings, and these depend on our words and our thoughts. In other words, when the mind is calm and peaceful, the body has no choice but to follow suit. What a powerful concept for a laboring woman to master!

I began to tune out the negative thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations about my upcoming labor and birth.

Keep it simple

You don't need much fancy equipment to learn how to relax and kick fear to the curb. Choose some relaxing music from any of your favorite musicians. Lie down or sit in a comfortable position while you listen. Inhale fully through your nose and exhale fully through your nose. Focus on your breath. Heck, maybe even let yourself fall asleep. The key is to practice relaxation. That's right, practice! Do it for 30 minutes or so every day — yes, every day! Many of us lead very busy lives. We don't often carve out time to sit or just be. The time spent in relaxation practice is what conditions your mind to be relaxed so that when you begin labor, your mind automatically knows how to go back and stay in that nice relaxed, peaceful place.


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Find a childbirth class near you

Research and reach out. Chances are good that someone in your community is certified in one or more of the most popular childbirth-preparatory series: Lamaze, The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth, or HypnoBirthing.

Education is empowerment, which will ultimately help lessen your fear.

More on labor and birth

How to survive the third trimester
Hypnosis for childbirth: Hype or helpful?
The truth about birth plans

Topics: labor and birth