Fear of Childbirth

If I could teach my students one thing it would be to trust their bodies. If you have that- you can do it. On the other hand- if you are fearful of the entire process all of your book knowledge about birth will do you little good. One of the most difficult things for me when I am teaching is sharing with people the info they will need to navigate today's birth system without making them so afraid of the entire process that they are unable to relax and just give birth.


In Bradley
(TM) we call this the fear- tension- pain cycle. When we are afraid our bodies react by tensing up, increased tension (especially when trying to relax through labor contractions) will greatly increase pain during labor. This cycle is vicious and feeds itself, the more fear, the more pain, the more pain, the more fear, and around and round we go until we are begging for the savior epidural.

Becoming Fearful of Birth

How did we get so scared to death of birth? Right now, most modern American women grow up being scared to death of birth. We rarely hear a good birth story. Women almost joking refer to how awful birth is, the need for their c-section, their induction, their bottle feeding, their pain in breastfeeding, hemorrhage, length of labor, every thing that went wrong at every turn and on and on- with all this, it is no wonder that most of us have a hard time relaxing through birth. We have been taught that we could literally explode at any moment.

To add to the sheer volume of negative cultural ideas about birth, far too many women have bad experiences through the life cycle that make the whole process of letting go difficult. What can cause us to be afraid and stop relaxing? I regret that it is a pretty long list: sexual abuse, rape, infertility, previous negative birth(s), mothers' horrible birth stories, and the list goes on.

Moving On

Sometimes I wish I was a therapist because I feel so inadequate when it comes to helping women deal with these issues in relation to childbirth. Inevitably, any issue that causes fear of birth or a deep distrust of our bodies needs to be dealt with prior to birth as much as possible. Here are some things that might be helpful- (and PLEASE- if you have more resources to add, please comment and let me know):

-Read positive birth stories-
+Mothering Magazine, Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth and Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin are all good resources for positive birth stories. I also love my midwife Claudette and she has some great stories on her website

-Visualize your birth-
+Take some time to visualize your "perfect birth." It won't turn out this way- birth is beyond our control- but taking the time to imagine everything going well helps in two ways. First, it gives you your own good birth story in your head, and second, it will help you make choices about care providers and birth places, that will help you accomplish what you want. For example, if you imagine your birth quiet, uninterrupted, and just you and your husband, then maybe a busy teaching hospital isn't your ideal birth place.

-Practice Relaxation-
+This might just be key to a good birth. But you do need to practice it. Take a good out of hospital birth class that focuses on relaxation and then do it every night. Mind Over Labor and 25 Ways to Awaken Your Birth Power are good books (and the last link also links to birth stories.)

-Face your fears, and let them go-
+This might be easier said than done, but do your best. Talk about things with your partner, and work out what you can. Know that you can do this but there might be some moments in labor where you have to face your fears.

Your Body is Perfect

I know we hear over and over again in the media and in our own heads about the imperfections of the female body. But our bodies are perfect for what they are meant to do- give birth and feed our babies. Tell yourself this over and over again. My mantra while pregnant with my first was "I am not afraid, I am not afraid" and the birth was virtually painless. You were designed to do this. Your body is perfect for birth and mothering.


This is so good! You went straight to the root of the problem: FEAR!

I would say if you are the type, affirmations may help. Also, birth art might help too.

What helped me the most was reading Hynobirthing. Not so much for the techniques, but for the info in the first 1/2 the book...it's all about how fear equals pain. I read it 3 times.

I have had very painful labors/birth and a painless labor, so I have experienced both and know that the difference for me was literally fear and trust of myself and birth. Amazing.
Oh, that was me, January, by the way! Ha!
Mama Birth said…
Thanks so much January - It is an interesting subject. I like to think that anything that we might consider pain in birth is just our bodies trying to tell us to move or relax. If we think of it as discomfort and our body trying to talk to us rather than punish us it can be productive instead of scary-
Baer said…
Great post! But please don't assume that all us preggers have husbands. Personally, I have a wife. and I used to be a single mama. Take care!