Have you ever had those sleepless nights where you lay in your bed anxiously thinking about birth? If you’re raising a mental hand right now, know that you’re not alone. About 80% of women express fear or anxiety regarding pregnancy and birth. Well, I’m here to say that a fearless and even painless childbirth is possible. You might be thinking I’m crazy and that there is no such thing as painless childbirth. But please keep reading because this isn’t some post on magical stones that will make your labor and delivery fear and pain free. The only thing I’m trying to sell you is the very attainable dream of a fear and pain free birth experience.
So what does fear have to do with pain? First, think of a time when you were truly in fear and recall the sensations of your body. I’m going to say that you probably had some form of tension in your body: clenched fists, thudding heartbeat, etc. You see, when our brain registers danger, it sends a message to the Adrenal Gland to release a hormone called Adrenaline. Sound familiar? Adrenaline is an awesome hormone that helps us defend ourselves when danger is present. It triggers our fight or flight response which can result in sweaty palms, increased heart rate, and decreased blood flow to our non defense organs. And guess what’s not a defense organ? The uterus! So, while adrenaline is an awesome hormone to have when you’re running from your neighbor’s dog or standing up to your unfair boss, adrenaline can be a real pain in the uterus during your labor.
When I ask first time mothers what their biggest concerns are regarding labor, I usually hear, “Tearing” and “I’m scared of the pain or labor challenges”. Many can’t believe their bodies are capable of pushing a tiny human out of a 10 centimeter hole, and I don’t blame them! Western culture has made birth seem bizarre and traumatic through TV shows and movies like Saturday Night Live, Friends, and Knocked Up. Sure, we get a good laugh, but we also slowly have those images instilled in our minds of what birth is like. Women go on believing birth to be scary, unnatural, perhaps even impossible.
This fear mentality that so many women walk into the labor room with, sometimes subconsciously, causes the body to work against itself. Go back to that scenario I asked you about earlier- the one where you were afraid. Now bring that into the labor space as you start feeling very intense discomfort that you can’t control or escape from. You start freaking out, and your body starts doing these things:
Blood and oxygen are sent to your defense organs like your arms and legs and taken away from your uterus and face.
Adrenaline restricts the production and use of oxytocin and endorphins- your body’s natural pain killers that make labor bearable.
Muscles tighten instead of relax, making it more difficult for your uterus and vagina to stretch more easily and efficiently.
In effect, your body is working against itself during labor when fear is present. And as your body tenses in response to fear, pain is created. This is known as the Fear, Tension, Pain cycle, a term coined by Doctors Jonathan Dye and Grantly Dick-Read in the early 1900’s. Essentially, fear of pain or of possibly tearing, a long labor, painful contractions, c-section, etc. increases the likelihood of it happening; it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So the question is, how do you prevent this self-fulfilling prophecy from happening? The good news: you’re already ahead of the game because you’ve read this! The first step in eliminating fear is being aware of it! And when fear is eliminated, so is the pain! You are able to move out of a fear, tension, pain cycle and into a trust, relax, and allow cycle.
But how exactly are you supposed to eliminate that lingering fear so you can be in that trust, relax, and allow cycle? You’ve done the first part in being aware of fear, so your next steps are to learn about the amazing capabilities of your body, talk or write about your fears, work through them with a trusted person, and prepare your body for your labor! Say goodnight to those sleepless hours you anxiously spend in bed! Trust that you and your baby can love your fearless and painless birth!