This is a guest post from Ann Kaplan. Ann is a doula, childbirth educator and parent coach. She has 4 kids and has given birth in hospitals, birth centers and at home She has helped hundreds of growing families birth and raise awesome humans since 2009 through her business, Mom-Me Experience.
A midwife once told me, “Worry is the work of pregnancy,” and I have learned from my own pregnancies, and from helping hundreds of moms through their births: she was 100% right!
We evolved back in cave-lady times to protect ourselves and our babies by pondering what could go wrong and what to do about it, and those cave-lady brains still control birth today.
It’s our cave-lady brains at work when we’re nesting, having crazy dreams, or lying awake fretting over silly things at night (“Should I fold laundry or meal-plan first when I get up tomorrow? Better spend the next hour awake trying to answer that one!”). Unfortunately, the modern world isn’t a great fit for cave-ladies.
Simple prep like stockpiling pelts and de-sabertooth triggering the cave have given way to internet rabbit holes, scary birth stories from rando’s at the grocery store, and mountains of testing and bet-hedging.
And it’s not like there’s nothing to worry about!
Even if you aren’t fretting about ‘silly’ things during pregnancy, there’s the matter of that little thing at the end of all this gestating: giving birth! After over a decade as a birthworker I know every mom has anxiety about labor, even if it’s not her first time.
BUT, fear is a major labor buzzkill.
The hormones of stress, fear and anxiety (especially adrenaline and cortisol) work to make labor slower and less functional. Fear during labor actually affects the progression and outcome of birth!
When you are fearful or anticipating a painful contraction, you naturally tense to brace yourself for the coming discomfort. That tension makes your contraction more painful, confirming your fear, causing you to become even tenser. It’s the fear-tension-pain cycle and birth dorks like me have been studying it since the 70’s when Dr. Grantly Dick-Read identified it.
Ashley even mentions the fear-pain-tension cycle here. So, if worry is the work of pregnancy, trust and surrender are the work of birth. How can we shift from fear to trust? Here are my tips for ensuring your worries aren’t the boss of your birth:
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3 tips for making sure FEAR doesn’t sabotage your birth
Take a class
While evidence shows that people who take birth classes or have birth plans are more likely to have a vaginal delivery, not all classes are equal.
Here’s how to tell the classes that will make a difference vs. the ones that teach you to be a nice patient: Make sure your class is independent (NOT offered by your birthplace), evidence-based (look for a CAPPA certification), includes hands-on practice of coping skills, and emphasizes emotional preparation.
This element is crucial. Emotion affects birth, so we need to address anxiety prenatally. All the breathing exercises and pelvis diagrams in the world can’t help a scared mama who can’t process her fear.
Skip the drama
Your body isn’t the only thing that’s more sensitive during pregnancy. The pregnant head and heart are like big sponges absorbing the messaging, fear-mongering, and horrible birth stories they’re exposed to.
Reading scary books, listening to your aunt tell you how excruciating and gory her birth was, or researching every defect a baby could have…these all have real psychological impacts. You take the protection of your body and baby seriously; do the same for your mindset.
Skip the scary stuff and surround yourself with positivity, just like you skip the cocktails and surround yourself with lean protein! Read something really positive, but not sugar-coated. Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth is my fave.
Consider your space and team
Your space and the people surrounding you during birth affect how trusting vs. fearful you feel during labor. Think about what you really want and believe about birth and body. Then make sure your birth venue and care provider agrees with your beliefs and desires.
If you have to fight for what you believe or feel you’re swimming upstream in creating the experience you want, it will be hard to relax during labor. Interview care providers, tour birthplaces, and you might like my free masterclass on birth planning to help identify your wishes and options.