Written by Psychologist, Nikolina Miljus
Women are strong! We are courageous! We are capable!
But even the most confident and fearless among us is bound to get at least a little nervous as we approach the reality of giving birth. For most of us the fear is more than a little – it can be all consuming and lead to much anxiety.
In a moment we’ll go through six of the most common fears around labor and childbirth and give you tips on how to overcome them. It all comes down to getting informed, altering your perspective and mindset, and getting yourself in the right head space.
Fears related to childbirth are natural and realistic.
During labor your body takes over, and while you are completely engaged in the process, it’s not something you can do anything about. You can control some things, but much of it is outside your control.
Learning what lies ahead during labor and birth can make all the difference between overwhelming panic about how you will cope – and its opposite – fully trusting your body and your ability to do this.
Every woman has unique prior birth experiences, pain tolerance, and coping capabilities so let’s look into some ways to overcome these common childbirth fears. You’re sure to find some that will work for you.
1. The pain will be too intense for me to manage
This is the biggy with most expectant moms.
As a first-time mom labor and birth are entirely new and it might be difficult to accept that your body is fully capable of managing it all.
The truth is that your body is more than capable.
The body’s natural systems are in place to minimize pain and give you extra strength to cope with the physical aspects of labor and birth.
No other mammal doubts its ability to birth. You shouldn’t either.
It’s helpful to think of the billions of women who have been through the process before you and have gotten through it. You will be no different. Let yourself rest in their strength if you find it difficult to find your own.
How to overcome the fear of pain?
Unless you’re a hypnobirthing ninja there’s little disagreement about childbirth being painful. Rather than fearing that you will not be able to manage the pain, you can look into different ways of managing pain well before your due date. Here are some excellent ways to manage pain during labor. Some you can start with right now.
Learn Simple Breathing Techniques
Learn how to breathe to relax. The more relaxed you are during labor the less it hurts. Focus all your anxiety and fear on learning these techniques and you will be well equipped to handle things. You can learn a very simple breathing technique to minimize the pain of labor and delivery here.
Use Birth Affirmation Cards
In the months before birth you can read positive affirmation cards to help you get into the right mindset and minimize pain levels. My personal favorites are the Mama Natural cards.
Go to Birthing Classes
Hypnobirthing, Bradley Method, Lamaze method. These are some specific childbirth techniques that you can use to get into the right mindset and manage the pain of labor and birth. Look for classes in your area. They are well worth it.
Those who have labored in water will tell you that it does much to keep you relaxed and relieve the pain of contractions. If you’d like to try this option for pain relief research hospitals and birthing centers that have birthing pools. The other option is to hire a birthing pool and have a home birth.
Medical Pain Management
There are a number of medical options for pain management during labor and birth.
You will probably already know about most of them such as epidural, entonox/nitrous oxide (called gas and air in the UK) and opiods such as morphine or pethidine.
One of the most common choices is epidural anesthesia. This type of anesthesia does comes with some risks, particularly higher risk of cesarean section, but it’s an option that many women are glad they chose.
If your fear of needles makes this idea unappealing to you, here is one comforting thought. As the needle is inserted in your back, you do not need to see it at all. The pain level from the injection itself is minimal as local anesthetic is applied before the needle is inserted.
2. I won’t get to the hospital in time
The idea that labor will start suddenly and progress so quickly you will not have enough time to make it to the hospital is a fear for many women. The number of cases where a woman actually delivers in the supermarket or in a car on her way to the hospital is very low. However, since they are newsworthy, they get far more attention from the media than a typical complication-free delivery.
How to overcome the fear of a fast labor?
You can be (mostly) in control of when you get to the hospital by choosing a hospital close to home where possible, learning how to time your contractions and planning out different scenarios.
Talk to your birthing partner about how the thought of not making it to the hospital in time scares you. By sharing your fears, you’ll get valuable support in planning and drafting scenarios to get to the hospital at different times of the day. Make sure that your hospital bag is pre-packed and you have made alternative plans if for some reason you can’t get to the hospital.
If you’re a first-time mom, timing your early contractions might be a bit challenging as this experience is entirely new to you.
The general recommendations are not complicated at all though.
If your contractions are coming in 5 minute intervals, are gradually getting stronger and last around a minute each time, it’s time to go to the hospital. You can always ask your midwife or ob-gyn for advice that is more tailored to your pregnancy history. And there are apps available to help you track your contractions too.
3. I will embarrass myself by pooping during labor
One concern that often haunts first-time moms and is sometimes too embarrassing to talk about with your ob-gyn or your midwife. What if you poop in the middle of labor in front of everyone and your birthing partner?
The reality is that this is likely to happen.
During childbirth your baby must push past the bowel and this squeezes out any poop in there.
How to overcome the fear of embarrassment during labor?
The potential embarrassment you feel when you think about this situation right now will completely fade by the time you are in full labor. It might not sound believable to you now, especially if you’re about to give birth to your first baby, but this is something that most women who feared the same said after their childbirth.
You are likely to be surrounded by professionals whose job is to manage events like these without even thinking about them.
If you are worried about how your child-birthing partner might react to you pooping on the bed, then you need to look at this situation from a different perspective. You and your partner are sharing a unique experience that is as much physical as it is emotional.
If months of dealing with physical pregnancy symptoms haven’t deepened the intimacy between you, then surely the wonder of bringing a new life the two of you have created into the world is something that overshadows a minor event such as a little bit of poop.
4. Perineal tearing will damage my private parts
Almost 95% of first-time moms will have 1st-degree perineal tears, which are minor lacerations that heal with or without stitches in the perineal area. The higher-degree tears involving the muscles are far less frequent. In some cases your ob-gyn or midwife may decide it is necessary to speed up the delivery and they may suggest you have an episiotomy, which is a cut to your perineum.
How to overcome the fear of perineal tearing?
The idea of unintentional or intentional lacerations in your most private area is, at the very least, unpleasant and for a portion of women very scary. However, scarring from the most common type of perineal tears is very rare as it involves only minor lacerations.
Prior to labor and birth there are a number of things you can do to help prevent tearing. You can learn more about them here.
The most common way to prevent tearing is perineal massage. It’s especially useful for first-time moms and can help minimize tearing during labor by stretching the skin in your perineal area in preparation. Ask your midwife how to perform the massage and how frequently should you do it.
5. I will have to have an emergency Cesarean section
Some emergencies can develop during labor, and a C-section might be the best choice at the time to ensure you and your baby’s safety. In the event that your baby is in a breech position, if you have pre-eclampsia, or experience heavy vaginal bleeding among other conditions, your medical team may suggest an emergency C-section.
How to overcome the fear of emergency C-section?
It is a daunting experience to go through labor and then have plans suddenly changed by an emergency C-section. A Cesarean section is a routine procedure and perhaps not what you imagined your childbirth to be. However, in the event that this happens, it helps to keep in mind that a C-section was the best choice to ensure your and your baby’s safety.
The recovery process after a C-section is different from the recovery after vaginal childbirth; however, these differences are not as radical as you might fear. An extended hospital stay of 4-5 days and pain management may be necessary after a C-section. Breastfeeding after the C-section might be more difficult, but it is by no means impossible. You still might be able to deliver your future children vaginally.
Your childbirth is no less natural or less valuable because what ultimately matters the most is that both you and your baby are well.
6. I will miss bonding opportunities if I have my baby delivered by a C-section
If you are awake for your c-section you will meet your baby almost immediately after they are born. Nowadays you can choose to opt for a natural cesarean which respects the needs of both mother and baby in the first minutes after birth.
If you have general anesthesia for the C-section procedure, it is undoubtedly disappointing to miss seeing your child right after birth, but you will have a lifetime of precious moments to connect with your child. You will have plenty of bonding opportunities once you wake up.
How can I overcome the fear of not being a good mom after a C-section?
A C-section delivery will not change the way you and your baby bond emotionally. It is true that the physical recovery after the C-section can leave you feeling drained emotionally so there might be less excitement than you think you should be feeling. Plus an emergency C-section or a difficult delivery is a traumatic experience and leave you so many mixed emotions.
Most women are conditioned to expect how they should be feeling about their birth and baby. The reality is that every woman and every birth is different.
Your emotions are natural and there is no right or wrong way to feel.
As soon as you physically recover from the birth, you’ll discover that small events like feeding time, diaper changes, or bath time are a new and unique opportunities for you to bond with your baby.
The ultimate coping strategy: Get perspective on the birthing stories you hear or read
When fear colors your outlook, you are far more likely to focus your attention on negative stories about childbirth complications. It doesn’t help that the overwhelming trend is to share the more challenging experiences.
Simply put, distress is usually more newsworthy. While all the thousands of normal births that happen every day are not.
It will be better for you to protect yourself from hearing and watching all these difficult labor and birth stories. That said, educating yourself about childbirth and learning different coping strategies to overcome fear of childbirth will give you a more positive childbirth experience. Then, you’ll have a positive story you can share with other moms-to-be.