Birth is more than a natural biological process; it's a fundamentally loving, sacred act of creation. It's also a powerful rite of passage for many women, leading to deep transformations as they bring a new soul to life and discover hidden strength in themselves. Even if you've had a child before, it's natural for you to feel apprehensive, ambivalent, and even scared about such a momentous event as your due date approaches.
However, as many as 10 percent of all pregnant women feel such an intense fear about childbirth that their negative emotions interfere with labor and delivery. If you fall into this group, you may experience full-blown anxiety attacks heralded by symptoms such as heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, or a racing pulse. You may have nightmares too or problems focusing on anything but this looming terror of the unknown.
A little stress is good for you, sending endorphins into your bloodstream and putting you on alert when you meet new challenges. However, when you're too frightened, your muscles tighten up, stress hormones flood your bloodstream, your heart rate zooms, and your blood flow is redirected outward toward your limbs in a fight-or-flight response. If your fears about labor have put you in a constant state of panic, share those fears with your provider. She may clarify misconceptions or have suggestions to address your specific concerns.
More on conquering fears of childbirth
Coping strategies. The best way to cope with childbirth is to learn not to fear it. Yes, some of labor will be uncomfortable, and some of it will hurt. But there are many avenues for pain management. You will get through it, just as many generations of women have gotten through it before you. And at the end of the day you will hold your baby in your arms. What you need now are strategies for diminishing your fear.
Figure out why you're so afraid. For instance, if your medical history includes a past miscarriage or stillbirth, a difficult delivery with a previous child, or excessive exposure to traumatic labor stories, you need more information about labor and delivery and reassurance that your pregnancy is going well. Write down your concerns about medication, cesarean deliveries, and your baby's well-being. Share these fearful scenarios with your provider, who can help you work out strategies for coping.
Consider talking to a therapist. Research has shown that women with an intense fear of labor who talk to therapists may have shorter labors and fewer unnecessary cesarean deliveries than those who don't seek therapy. Your provider may be able to provide a referral to a good therapist.
Finally, shut out the negative stories. Steer clear of scary television shows on childbirth, and if your friends start regaling you with their own labor travails, ask them to change the subject. Learn relaxation skills and find a trusted midwife or doula to help you put them into practice during these final weeks of pregnancy. She will also stay by your side and ease your fears during labor and delivery.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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