In today's modern world we value the intellect most, and whilst this is great for climbing career ladders, when it comes to giving birth, it can overly complicate things.
The part of the brain that is most vital to giving birth is the middle brain, known as the limbic system, which we share with all other mammals. This part of the brain produces the hormones that help a labour and birth to go well.
In contrast, the neo cortex, which is the part of the brain that helps us to rationalise, communicate and be scientific, hinders the natural birth process.
To understand fear of birth better, it is important to consider several factors including our own time in the womb.
How we feel about birth will largely depend on whether our mother had a positive pregnancy, how she felt about giving birth, and how our actual birth went.
To make things more complex, as the eggs that made us were present within our maternal grandmother's body when she was busy growing our mother, we are also influenced by our maternal grandmother's feelings, and her feelings will be influenced by the generations before.
So, often, the fears we have, may not be our own!
On top of this, we have our cultural and social beliefs, TV, Movies, new stories and family stories to influence how we feel about birth as all we hear and see as children goes straight into the subconscious and programs us.
Also, what we fear can differ from woman to woman, but essentially can be reduced to the following points:
Both these points can be reduced to fear of survival.
There are also other factors, such as the fear of being a mother once the baby is born, and also fear of whether the baby will be ok/not having any disabilities.
It is important to look at what is feared in order to be able to work through the fear.
Gemma Stone has created a wonderful program for getting to the bottom of fear of birth and helping to overcome it.
It is also worth considering that if we do have fear of birth, then this will also affect us on a cellular level, which means we will carry it in our body memory i.e. our muscles & nervous system.
Essentially, when we experience fear, the sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive and our bodies move into a 'fight, flight or freeze' response.
Muscles tighten, adrenaline starts being produced and blood moves from our vital organs to extremities in order to be able to run away from perceived danger.
The key is to have tools that can be used to move from a sympathetic nervous response to a parasympathetic nervous response once it is recognised i.e. calm yourself down!
Fear manifests as tension in the body, and the tension can then be experienced as pain, both in pregnancy and especially in labour.
Pregnancy & Birth Preparation Yoga is wonderful for helping to bring awareness to how and where you hold tension in your body.
Learning body-based practices to help release fear and tension helps us to access the innate birthing wisdom we each have. Trying to overcome fear of birth through filling the mind with lots of information can end up making matters worse as it does not consider the power of the subconscious.
Body based practices such as Birthlight Pregnancy Yoga help to re program the subconscious, and this in turn has an effect on the body, even the position that the baby takes when it is time to go into labour.
If a baby's head won't engage, or engages at a funny angle, 2 major contributing factors will be the mother's postural habits, and whether her deep muscles, such as the PSOAS and QUADRATUS LUMBORUM are tight.
When we internalise difficult emotions such as anger or fear, our bodies tighten up in response.
If they are it will restrict the baby engaging deeply and also the mothers breathing.
Learning breathing and relaxation techniques help to refocus the mind on feeling safe and also on relaxing the deep muscles mentioned.
Learning visualisations to change the mental imagery of birth also helps to reprogram the subconscious mind.
In order for labour to go well there are two factors that set the scene:
Both these factors are influenced by the maternal emotions as mentioned previously. How baby feels about being born will largely depend on how mum feels, as her bio-feedback will be informing the baby about whether it is safe to be born.
e.g. If every time mum talks or thinks about giving birth she gets all tense and starts to feel frightened, her body will be producing adrenaline-based hormones, which will be alerting the baby to a perceived danger.
If when mum talks or thinks about birth, she considers it in a more positive light- she will be producing more oxytocin than adrenaline and this gives the message to baby that birth is something to feel good and positive about.
WARNING: you can't fool your body as the response is automatic, but what you can do is change the imagery in the mind, and use physical prompts to change the nervous system response, when fear is experienced.
All of this can be learned in Pregnancy & Birth Preparation Yoga classes and with the various hypnobirthing techniques that are mentioned. Gemma Stone's program 'Birthing from Love' is also full of information and tools to support the shift from fear to trust.
Do you clench your jaw or buttocks, hold your breath, or feel it in your neck, shoulders, get migraines, tight chested etc.?
Learn breathing and relaxation techniques to help you release tension in these areas. If you are local to Surrey or London based look here for our scheduled classes, otherwise please use the 'Find a Teacher' function on the Birthlight website.
Consider also your partner's pregnancy and birth and ask your mothers for what information they have of theirs.
Talk about it with someone who can practice 'active listening' with you, or record yourself talking about your fears, then play back and listen to when your conversation becomes more animated, and key sentences that stick out. Write this all down as it will help you to later reframe the beliefs that you have.
Some common fears include:
A doula is a birthing attendant who is there to support you during pregnancy and birth, emotionally and physically. Some doulas offer postnatal support too.
She is your advocate for your birthing wishes and trusts the normal process of labour and birth. Her remit is to offer 'with woman care' i.e. to help you to feel safe, nurtured and supported, just by being with you. Some doulas offer additional services such as reflexology, acupuncture and reiki, but the essence of a doula is to boost your confidence in yourself, your birthing body and your baby.
Hiring a doula has been proven to reduce labour length and also the perception of pain, and having support during the preparation process helps to alleviate the fears associated with birth.
If you are interested in Rozy's doula services please contact us. For national enquiries please visit the Doula UK website. For international doula enquiries please ask your midwifery/antenatal education team for local recommendations or try a google search.
If your partner wants to be at the birth with you then it is worth them learning a thing or two about how to help labour to go well and what they can do to support you.
Birthlight teachers offer exceptional Yoga Birth Preparation workshops and these combine theory and practice so that participants gain body-based memory of the practices and theory offered at the sessions.
InJoy-Yoga recommends Birthlight because they offer the most comprehensive scientifically backed approach, which is currently being trialled in several hospitals nationally.
There are other service providers out there, so if Birthlight doesn't offer anything locally near you, do a search for Yoga Birth workshops on Google. We run our own local Birthlight Birth Preparation Yoga Workshops in Croydon.
The NCT offer good parent education programmes as do other local independent organisations such as Annette Skinner's 'Before and After Baby'. Contact Annette on 020 86605072.
There are techniques such as tapping (also known as Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT), which help to remove old neuropathways of fear and create new neuropathways of trust, and this is a great practical thing to do when fear comes on and you need something quick to do to clear it. Check out our EFT pages for how to use.
Yes these really do help. Wobbling your body helps to reset the nervous system by 'scrambling' messages sent to the brain, and sighing and singing help to relax the diaphragm, which will relax everything else.
No scary stories, birth programs, scary movies, reading or watching the news.
Consider that everything you expose yourself to, you are also exposing your baby to. In order to shift fear of birth, it is important to only feast the senses on positive associations with the world and with birth. There are plenty of inspiring videos on youtube that show birth in a very empowering light. Search for 'home birth', 'orgasmic birth', 'natural birth' and see what you find.
Be choosy about the books you read - some of the best are by Ina Mae Gaskin, Shiela Kitzinger, and Pam England.
Be careful with what you hear at antenatal visits and make sure you talk to someone if what you are told frightens you.
Midwives and Doctors often dont have enough time to listen fully and can sometimes say things in a way that you find alarming but dont speak up about at the time. Though information given to you is never intended to scare you, sometimes this is the net effect, so talking it through with someone if you need to. Your antenatal yoga teacher, doula, friend who is an experienced mother - anyone who trusts the natural process of birth and ideally is well read up about the subject will do.