Stress, anxiety and birth
High levels of stress and anxiety when we approach labour are normally born out of our conscious or subconscious fears; fear of the unknown if it’s our first time, fear routed from what others around us or society have told us about birth or fear from a previous birth experience.
Whatever the fear is, it can trigger a stress response for us. The Fear > Tension > Pain cycle tells us that when we experience fear leading to stress, our bodies release adrenaline to prepare ourselves to fight, flight or freeze. Obviously this would have been helpful when we were surrounded by sabre-toothed tigers but not so much now!
Tension in labour causes the muscles in the uterus to work far less effectively – less oxygen can reach the muscle and is directed away from our reproductive and digestive systems to our lungs, brains and larger muscle groups.
Labour is longer as the muscles of the uterus are not fully working in tandem (one set relaxing and one set contracting) meaning that it is much more likely to be painful and you are more likely to need pain relief. This starts as what is known as a cascade of intervention that once on that path, is more likely to end in instrumental or augmented (artificially helped along) labour compared to if you were in a deeply relaxed and calm state, confident of what you and your body could do.
Top 5 ways to resolve stress in labour
- Get to the root of your fears. You could do this 1:1 with a hypnobirthing teacher, psychotherapist or your midwife you can explore your individual ideas about birth and look to reframe them. Make sure your fears are not based on assumptions and you have the latest evidence to hand.
- Practice relaxation techniques before labour if you can and think about how you will prepare your environment to encourage that love hormone oxytocin to flow.
- Remember to breathe. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing will not only get more oxygen flowing but will give you a focus during contractions.
- Get your birth partner to remind yourself of how well you are doing and use their support, be it your partner or birth doula. They should know what your preferences are in advance so they can advocate on your behalf when you are in the zone!
- Visualise yourself holding your baby at the end of this journey. Your imagination is so powerful; where the mind leads the body follows and having this image as a reminder of why you are doing it will be of great comfort.
I would also suggest reading The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill for the latest information about all kinds of births and think in advance about what your birth preferences are. The reality is that if you don’t know your options you don’t have any.
Remember you’ve got this!