Really?! Fear Slows Down Labor?!

It’s been awhile, birthy world! Thank you for your patience. I’ve had quite the interesting summer so far, how about you? Anyway. Today’s post.

Go ahead and go read this short article before you proceed here: Fear Makes Labor Longer, Study Finds.

Image found at seamlessbrand.blogspot.com

So, they’ve “discovered” that fear slows down labor. Really?

This is something women have known innately for thousands of years, and something that natural birth professionals have been preaching for decades.

We cannot make labor happen faster than it should. However, there are things we can do to slow it down – and harboring fear is one huge one. It’s called the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle. A phrase coined by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, a pioneer in natural childbirth.

Essentially, it works like this: Mom feels the pains of her first contractions, and fear creeps in that she will not be able to cope when it gets harder. This raises her stress hormones, which ready her for flight, and she tenses up. At the peak of her contraction, her carried tension leads to a greater sensation of pain, and she again begins to fear what comes next. She fears she will not be able to cope, and the cycle begins all over again. Not much fun, I’m afraid.

How do we break that cycle?

1) Hire a doula.
I address a mother’s fears by listening to her, and helping her work through them verbally ahead of time if at all possible. This can even be done in labor. Even small fears have the potential to become big ones in the right environment, so never dismiss any fears you have as “silly.” Address it, work through it, and let it go as best you can.

2) Take an evidence-based childbirth class.
In class is where you can find all kinds of practical tips, tools, and techniques (hooray for alliteration!), for coping with any kind of pain or discomfort you may have during labor. It’s a chance for your support person to learn how to best help you, and you can prioritize ahead of time what techniques you would like to try first.

Also, the more you know about the basic anatomy and physiology of normal birth, the less likely you are to fear it. It kind of takes away all the mystery, and sheds light on an aspect of your womanhood you may never have really understood before. I know that very understanding was a huge help to me as I labored with each of my children.

3) Consider home birth.
No, really. Do it. Look into it. Especially if you have a strong aversion to hospitals and doctors normally. What better way to minimize fear than by being in your own space? Where everyone caters to your needs in labor. Where no one crosses personal boundaries “for your own/baby’s good.” Where you have the most control over the environment. Midwives almost always offer a free consultation, and it never hurts to ask questions! (Visit my home birth & midwifery link at the top of the page if you have more questions.)

4) Learn effective stress management techniques.
These don’t just work for labor – they work for life. They are practical things you can even teach your young children to do when they are feeling stressed. We all know that stress can make us sick, so learning to do this is paramount to all of us in the crazy-fast-paced world. Incidentally – many of the basic relaxation techniques taught in childbirth classes are great stress management tools!

Among many other tools, you can use prayer, physical relaxation techniques, massage, warm compresses, breathing, essential oils, and herbs.

Once the cycle is broken, and you are relaxed, your labor will progress much more quickly and bearably. You may even enjoy many parts of it! It’s not as overwhelming when you know that it is all perfectly orchestrated to bring your baby earthside as safely and effectively as possible. Eliminating fear from the equation allows a better cycle to work: Rhythm, Relaxation, & Ritual cycle (Penny Simkin).

Well, it’s not so much a cycle as it is a principle at work.When you are able to get into a groove of some kind, to find your rhythm, you are able to relax more effectively. You will create little rituals that mark time and space for you in a place where time and space mean almost nothing. It sends you to your primitive brain (a.k.a. “Labor Planet”), and helps you handle your labor as you were intended to handle it: one contraction, one rest period at a time.

When you are relaxed well, you are able to handle everything your labor brings forward. You can crest your contractions like waves, accepting them and holding realistic expectations of your own ability to continue working as long as you need to.

A woman relaxed in childbirth is a woman of power, strength, and faith.

A woman relaxed in childbirth allows her labor to work as quickly and efficiently as it was designed to. There is nothing to slow it down when fear is out of the way.

The beauty of it is that it also has a physiologic effect on your labor! Women, relaxed and uninhibited, will MOVE in labor. They will move a lot. And every movement of mother encourages the baby to move, which in turn encourages the cervix to move, which encourages mom to move, and on we go. The beautiful cycle of relaxation and courage!

Embrace it by educating yourself and taking nothing for granted.

If you have had children before, what was the one thing that helped you cope with each contraction the most? What led you to try that? What fears, if any, did you confront in your childbearing year?

Grace & Peace,
Tiffany Miller, CLD, CCCE

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