How to cope with Fear in Pregnancy and the Birth Room

Blog by Christy

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Let me let you in on a little secret. Everyone is scared. At least of something! No one is fearless and absolutely no one approaches birth without some degree of apprehension or worry. Perhaps that’s a sweeping statement but one thing is for sure, that no one knows how the birth is going to go and no one can tell you that everything is going to be okay and know beyond doubt they are telling you the truth. That is scary. I remember facing the birth of my second child, with a pit of bubbling panic and wringing anxiety in my stomach. Mainly because I had given birth before and it had been gruelling and painful but also because the hypnobirthing teacher in front of me was telling me this next birth was going to be different, better and all I could think was “How to hell do you KNOW?!”

Ironically, it’s that very fear that can be the cause, the root of the problem and by learning how to manage and minimise that fear early on in your pregnancy, it can reduce the chances of things going awry.  Here’s why.

Fear is a mechanism in place to ensure our survival, and the survival of our young, it’s there for our protection. For example, if you don’t know what’s over the edge of that cliff, Fear says, “It could be dangerous, and you could fall off the edge and die, so you’d better not venture over.”  And the fear of the unknown is a huge thing for most people, as you must look at many possible outcomes to be prepared for all eventualities.  Then we can introduce anxiety if you can identify more ‘What If’ scenarios than you can cope with, being swallowed up by trying to manage an outcome from an almost infinite set of possibilities which cannot be controlled. It all becomes very stressful, scary and an impossible prospect. Welcome overwhelm and/or depression. With these circumstances, how much better do you feel if you stick your head in the sand? Loads! For a while. Then the anxiety bubbles and the fear creeps, because this birth is still coming, and no one can do it for you and you can’t run away and pretend it’s not happening!

Fear is there to make us aware of danger, keep us safe (and alive). How then can it possibly hinder us in birth?  Fear is an emotion that can become overwhelming and literally paralysing with it.  Let me give you an example.  Feeling frightened (where you feel unsafe, exposed, observed or anxious) during your labour, your body creates this paralysis, a signal your body interprets that the environment is too unsafe to let your baby out into the world, so labour slows down or stops altogether.  Only when balance is restored, the fear subsided, can the body can resume birthing.  Worry, stress and fears can seriously take their toll on your mind and therefore your body – think appetite changes, sleep problems and anxiety induced conditions such as IBS or OCD. They are intrinsically linked. Is it therefore such a surprise that it can directly affect the body’s ability to birth too?

If fear is a serious player in ensuring a smooth and comfortable birth, then the issue is how to manage those fears, minimise or eliminate them quickly and maintain your cool in the thick of labour.  There are a number of ways to break this cycle and get some relief - 

BREATHE. It’s cliched, but that’s for a reason – it works. Breathe deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth, fill your lungs to the bottom and count your breath in and then release, count your breath out. This maximises the blood flow to your brain and keeps your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels balanced, which keeps the nervous system in balance. Breathe deeply and feel the calming effects immediately. 

MOVE. It doesn’t have to be much or indeed vigorous in any way. Just get your heart rate up by moving. Walking, preferably outside in the fresh air and natural daylight will elevate your mood by releasing the tensions in your body and encourages the release of endorphins – your body’s natural defence to pain. It also helps to regulate your breathing, sleep better and provide you with some headspace with the break from your routine/day.

CONNECT. Take some time to get to the crux of your fear and ask yourself, ‘What am I the most scared of?’ The worry you’re experiencing is often far worse than the reality, so get informed on what to expect and it will take the sting out of the unexpected. If you’re not sure what is the root of your feelings, why not start a journal and write regularly. You may be surprised what comes up for you.

BE YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND. Often in a state of fear or anxiety, you’re beating yourself repeatedly with thoughts that are negative, scary, stressful and downright mean, which puts your body and mind in a high state of alert for prolonged periods of time. Isn’t it sad that your inner chatter, your inner voice that talks you through everything you do is the meanest person to you? Always ready to have a go at you when you wouldn’t dream of speaking to someone like that, never mind someone you love. No one feels good on the receiving end of that, so give yourself a break and try and listen to your inner chatter. Every time it starts to be nasty, mean or warn you of all the horrible things that could happen, thank yourself for the opinion and choose to think the opposite, a positive thought that is encouraging. What would you say to yourself, if you wanted to feel loved, supported and like you had your back in this birth thing? Exactly. Be your own best friend, you know you can do this deep down, so cheer yourself on.

For more techniques and discussions around dealing with fear and anxiety in pregnancy, birth and parenthood, Christy will be speaking at the Kent Baby and Toddler Event in Maidstone on 9th December 2018. Alternatively do visit the website www.kenthypnobirthing.com for how Kent Hypnobirthing can help you prepare for a calm and comfortable birth.