Fear and Birth

There are many fears associated with pregnancy and birth. One of the most common fears is the fear of pain. Will birth hurt? What happens if I can’t deal with the contractions? For some people this fear impacts their decision of where to give birth.

     To some, home birth sounds like a nice, peaceful plan. But there is no medical pain management available at home. Another common fear is the fear of messing up. There is a lot of responsibility needed to bring a new life into this world and raise him to adulthood. This can be a scary realization, and many parents initially feel self-doubt that they are worthy of this responsibility. It can take time for the parents to finally understand that they are exactly the parents this baby needs. The fear of changing plans is also a common fear. Mothers and partners can do everything in their power to plan and prepare for their birth. They can find the best provider, the best support, the most informative childbirth classes, and the safest car seat. They can have a birth plan describing in detail how exactly they expect labor to proceed. What happens when the baby becomes distressed and a Cesarean birth is necessary? What happens when the mother fatigues and is unable to continue with her plan? Sometimes plans need to change, and this can introduce some fear. Hopefully having the understanding that births cannot be completely planned out in advance can help ease some fear.

       Fear can have detrimental effects in labor. In some ways, labor requires the mother to let go, both mentally and physically. The mother must allow the body to take over and do what is needed to dilate and help get the baby out. Fear can block this necessary and instinctual action. Fear can cause the mother to experience “psychological dystocia” which is a term used when labor slows or is inhibited by a non-physical issue. Fear can cause the mother to clench and fight contractions, which can affect the speed and ease of dilation. Many mothers have reported that contractions are more painful if the mother tries to clench or fight them. Thankfully, women have multiple ways to deal with this fear response. Women can try meditation, breathing exercises, or having an Epidural as means to aid in relaxation.

          Fear does not only impact labor psychologically, but it can also affect the hormones of labor. Oxytocin, known as the love hormone, is the hormone that is needed for labor to progress. Oxytocin stimulates the uterus to contract. These contractions cause dilation, and they eventually help push the baby down and out. After the birth, these contractions help clamp the uterus and prevent hemorrhage. Oxytocin also helps initiate a type of natural pain relief as it blocks some of the pain signals during labor. Another hormone, Adrenaline, has more negative effects. Adrenaline is the stress hormone involved with the fight-or-flight response. Fear can trigger Adrenaline to be released during labor. Adrenaline does not help labor; Adrenaline inhibits the release of Oxytocin. This effect can slow or completely stop labor, which can necessitate the use of augmentation measures. This can also lead to longer labor.

         To some people, fear is a motivator to get an unpleasant task over with. But fear can impede and negatively impact labor. Babies are born every day, so try to push the nagging fears away!