Written by Jenny Gough
One of the most common barriers preventing expectant parents from achieving the birth they want is ‘fear’, but what is fear? Why does it matter? How can it interrupt the physiology of birth? And, how can we combat it?
Read on to find out….
What is Fear?
Fear can present in many ways, from the occasional negative thought to frequent worry or anxiety which may even result in phobia. They often exist due to a previous experience that has negatively impacted upon you. This could be something as simple as watching a traumatic birth scene on TV or hearing a friend retell their ‘horrific experience’, but it can also stem from more obvious events; a previous birth, abuse, mental illness or a medical condition/complication in pregnancy. You may find yourself worried about being pregnant, the labour/birth, the baby or becoming parents, and indeed some feelings are common – you may find that you are not alone!
Why does it matter?
Fear creates tension in our bodies – represented by a variety of symptoms including: tight muscles, sweating, nausea, grinding teeth, fast heart rate, restless legs and repetitive thoughts. If it persists, it can result in pain. When you are worried or fearful in labour it creates tension in the inner circular muscles of the uterus – preventing dilation and descent of baby. The outer, longitudinal muscles are still working to push baby down and draw the lower end of the uterus up over baby and this is where the pain originates; the muscles are working against each other.
This is known as the ‘Fear àTension àPain’ cycle.
Fear also initiates the ‘Fight or Flight’ response – diverting attention to the major organs of the body, and altering hormone levels.
How can it interrupt the physiology of birth?
In order for labour to progress effectively the mind and body need to be as relaxed as possible, allowing the muscles to perform their functions. The inner circular muscles relax and dilate and the outer longitudinal muscles contract to shorten the uterus, and push the baby downwards. When one of these muscles are in the opposite state the uterus may not function as intended meaning contractions may be painful, ineffective or infrequent.
The ‘fight or flight’ response diverts attention away from the uterus, stopping labour until the mother is safe (an animal’s labour can often halt if feeling threatened, only to start again when safe). Heightened levels of ‘stress hormones’ (e.g. adrenaline) can reduce the ‘labour hormone’ oxytocin (produces contractions and also known as the ‘love/mothering hormone’ – present during sex, intimacy and breastfeeding) resulting in less frequent and/or effective contractions. Less contractions = slower labour or no labour!
How can we overcome fear?
Firstly, in order to overcome your fears or worries, you must uncover them. You may not be aware that you have any, but once explored effectively some may surface. It is then important to explore these fears – where they come from, why they remain, the worst case scenario and alternatives – and learn coping mechanisms to overcome and release them.
In order to this, it is important to talk openly and honestly with your birth partner, and maybe your care provider. This can be done alone if you feel happy to, or with the help of a birth preparation and/or hypnobirthing mentor trained in exploring thoughts and feelings in the childbirth period. They will guide you to discover more about yourselves and each other by exploring fears both individually and together. They will then help to create a plan tailored to your own needs and wishes, and support you to find techniques right for you.
The ultimate aim is to reach a point at which you are able to recognise worry and tension, and then relax and cope through this. A number of techniques can be used, including self-help methods and also those guided by a mentor or therapist.
Think about what normally helps you to relax: A hot bath? A massage? Listening to music? A cuddle? Low lighting? Familiar surroundings?
Then try to think of ways in which they can be used to help you during pregnancy, labour and birth. These methods can be the key to maintaining focus during the most difficult times, and preventing fears from overcoming you and interrupting your body’s natural efforts.
A mentor may identify further techniques to suit your own coping styles and preferences, such as: deep relaxation/self-hypnosis, visualisation, breathing techniques, support from your birth partner, acupressure, massage, a nurturing environment, positions, aromatherapy and much more.
By exploring your thoughts and developing coping and relaxation techniques that work for you, you will already have increased your chances of achieving the birth you want!
For further information on this article or available courses, please contact Jenny on:
Tel: 07510436626 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org