2 Exercises To Reduce Fear Of Labor
Moving through fear of labor.
Before I got pregnant, I was terrified of pregnancy and childbirth. I had been told by so many people over the years that I wasn’t ‘big’ enough, ‘tall’ enough, ‘wide’ enough to have a healthy pregnancy or a vaginal birth. And even though midwifery training taught me that none of that is true, that our physical size does not represent how dynamic our pelvis is, I was still scared.
I had a lot of work to do to overcome the physical fears of pregnancy and childbirth. And, on top of that, I’m a risk averse person who hates roller coasters and surprises (wanna hang out with me? I’m super fun!), and labor felt like the biggest roller coaster of my life.
I didn’t know how I would cope with labor pain- would I be able to tolerate the pain? Would I get overwhelmed and panic? Would things go the way I planned and envisioned? What will happen to my perception of my birth if it doesn’t go the way I thought it would?
This is something I wanted to overcome. And in order to do that I had to find a new perspective.
The question I began to ask myself was, “how can I have a beautiful pregnancy and birth even when things don’t go the way I planned?”
In order to really answer this question I needed to take the invisible, the things outside my awareness or control, and make them visible so I could then differentiate between pain and suffering.
Pain vs Suffering
When we are overwhelmed by fear, stress, or anxiety we often identify it as either emotional or physical pain. And when we don’t cope well with pain it turns into suffering, and suffering doesn’t feel good. Most people would like to avoid suffering.
When we are overwhelmed by fear in labor, the natural or normal pain of childbirth becomes much more intense. Our adrenaline and cortisol levels rise making labor pain a catch-22 of fear and more pain.
Understanding the difference between pain and suffering, as well as finding a new perspective for what it means when pregnant or in labor, can have a major impact on your well-being and experience of giving birth.
How do we intercept fear in labor?
The uterus is the only muscle in your body that has two opposing muscle groups. The lower muscles stretch and thin, while the top muscles contract and thicken. We need these two opposing muscles to work together to help the baby descend and for the cervix to dilate. There are a number of reasons, some entirely outside the control of the laboring mother, these muscles don’t work together.
While there are a number of things outside your control during labor, mentally preparing is one thing you can do to create a flexible mindset about your labor course, and possibly make contractions more effective by staying open to the unknown. Even if labor doesn’t progress the way you want, taking stock of your fear(s) can help you have a positive and empowered birth experience, while reducing the potential of pain turning into suffering, and suffering turning into trauma.
Preparing your mind for labor can reduce the fear of pain so a fight or flight response doesn’t take over your mind and body. This can benefit you mentally and physically, and it applies to ALL women in labor- those who want an unmedicated birth, medicated, and those who have an operative delivery.
*When I talk about suffering and trauma in labor, I am, by no means, including inappropriate or subpar treatment from hospital personnel; nor am I blaming traumatic births or poor birth outcomes on a mother because she didn’t ‘prepare for labor’. Mentally preparing for labor is just one aspect of her pregnancy and birth that might improve her birth experience. Having supportive and thoughtful medical care from a qualified team is incredibly important in creating a healthy and safe birth environment. I believe the pyschoemotional state of a woman in labor, as well as the pyschoemotional state of her support team, can impact her labor progress and perception of labor as well.
*I’m including all the births: unmedicated or medicated, vaginal, operative vaginal delivery or c-section.)
Labor Preparation Questions:
As you prepare for the birth of your child take stock of what you fear around labor.
Is it fear of the unknown?
Are you concerned about how you’ll cope with pain?
How often do you assess your ‘internal atmosphere’ and what do you do about it? (i.e are you frustrated, angry, avoidant, calm, happy, relaxed, etc)
What’s your ideal birth? What components to your ideal birth are within your control and what components are outside your control?
Are you questioning the adequacy or supportiveness of your delivery team (ex: provider, partner, doula, delivery location)? If so, have you made a decision on how to proceed?
Is there a thought or concern running in the back of your mind about your pregnancy or birth that you haven’t vocalized to your provider, doula, or partner?
Exercises To Prepare For Labor:
I have 2 exercises to help you cope with the fear of labor.
Next time something painful happens (could be emotional or physical pain) pay attention to your thoughts. Don’t judge them or analyze them, just watch. What goes on in your mind? What do your behaviors tell you about how you’re coping? Write these things down and continue to pay attention throughout your pregnancy.
This Kundalini exercise helps us find balance. It attaches us to truth instead of fear.
Sit in easy pose.
Inhale, and extend your arms straight out to the side, parallel to the ground with
Exhale, bend your elbows and bring your hands to your shoulders.
From here raise your elbows toward your head, touch your hands behind the back
of your neck, lifting the shoulders and the entire spine.
Lower your elbows as you exhale.
Do this for 3 minutes with powerful breathing.