Try not to get worried about giving birth. In fact, it’s likely to be a lot more straightforward if you know how to relax beforehand, says midwife Anne Richley.
1. Think positive
If you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re frightened of birth, then you will be, so think positively. You should look forward to labour and birth and meeting your baby with excitement. Everyday, try saying to yourself, “I’m so excited about going into labour!” It really will help!
2. Take an extra friend with you when you give birth
Birth is more frightening if you don’t have good support. Consider having two birth partners: a mum who’s already been through birth can be great for lessening your fears.
3. Talk through your worries
What precisely are you afraid of? Discuss your specific fears with your midwife, who will be able to give you practical tips on reducing the risks of various procedures.
4. Take some exercise
Don’t panic, we’re not talking about working up a sweat in the gym. You can do something as simple as taking a brisk walk. Exercise makes your body release endorphins, your natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals, which relieve anxiety and make you feel more energetic. Also, did you know that physically fit women often have more stamina when it comes to birth, and they recover more quickly.
5. Write a birth plan
Mums-to-be sometimes worry about not being listened to during labour. If some aspects of your care are particularly important to you, put them in your birth plan and make sure you give a copy to whoever is caring for you in labour.
6. Find out as much information as you can
Nothing is ever as bad as you imagine it to be. Find out about antenatal classes from your midwife or through the National Childbirth Trust, and I bet you’ll find a lot of your fears are unfounded.
7. Think about hiring a doula
‘Doula’ literally means ‘a woman care-giver’. The term has evolved to mean someone who is experienced in childbirth who provides support to another woman during and after her birth. Many mums-to-be find that having a doula to support them through labour makes the whole experience a more positive one.
8. Take a birth hypnotherapy course
Hypnotherapy classes, such as Hypnobirthing, teaches relaxation, breathing and visualisation techniques that will help control your fear, tension and pain.
“I did a hypnotherapy course with my husband to prepare for childbirth, and it was fantastic,” explains Geraldine, 33, mum to Christy, 5 months. “When labour started, I never once felt scared. I was relaxed and enjoyed every minute.”
9. Get reading
I’d recommend Childbirth Without Fear, by Dr Grantly Dick-Read (Pinter & Martin), first published in 1933 and still widely read today. Birth hypnotherapy draws on his theory that fear and tension have an enormous impact on labour, causing pain in 95% of women. He believed you can eliminate labour pain by taking away fear and tension.
10. Take control
The thought of not being in control frightens lots of women, so it’s important you feel that you have the power during your pregnancy and birth. Make sure you’re involved in any decisions and that you have as much as information as possible so that you can make informed decisions.
“I went from delivery to birth”
“My midwife told me to stop talking about the ‘delivery’, as it sounded like I was going to have a pizza or a parcel. Instead I had to talk about ‘birth’. It sounds daft but it worked. Over the weeks I felt more in control and positive about everything, as it was about me giving birth, not other people ‘delivering’ my baby.”
Joelle, 30, mum to Freddie, 10 weeks
“My midwife dismissed my fears”
“I was really worried about hallucinating on pethidine and making a complete fool of myself. When I told my midwife, she said that she’d never seen that happen in 30 years in the job, which made me feel so much better!”
Sarita, 34, mum to Vijay, 4 months
You need to talk about any fears of phobias of labour and birth you may have. Chances are, the other mums-to-be at your antenatal class are pondering the same things!
11. Know your midwife
Ask your community midwife if she’ll be able to care for you during your labour. If you have a midwife with you that you’ve come to know and trust, it can take a lot of fear out of the birth.
12. Share your fears
If you’re honest with mums-to-be you meet at antenatal or yoga classes, you’ll find you’re not alone in your fears, which can help you feel better. You’ll probably end up having a laugh about what’s worrying you.
13. Consider a home birth
You’re more likely to get one-to-one care from a midwife if you have a home birth, which will lower your anxiety levels and help you relax. In a low-risk pregnancy, there’s no evidence that a hospital is safer than home. “I felt privileged to have two midwives looking after me at home, especially with all the midwife staff shortages,” says Becky, 28, mum to Siobhan, 6 months.
14. Discuss your phobias
If you feel you have a real phobia of childbirth, sometimes referred to as tokophobia, it’s reasonable to request a caesarean, and you should be supported in your choice.
15. And finally… relax, if you can!
Easier said than done if you’re really anxious, but you can learn techniques to help you stay calm before and during labour, such as breathing exercises or yoga moves.
“My midwife taught me to keep my face relaxed and breathe out with a long, slow outward breath,” says Daria, 32, mum to Carys, 10 weeks. “And it really worked – any fear I had went away.”
“I thought I’d be shaved!”
“My mum convinced me I’d need a ‘shave and an enema’ when I was in labour. I was absolutely horrified at the thought. It was such a relief when I discovered this was a load of rubbish and hasn’t been the procedure for years!”
Kirsty, 37, mum to Freddy, 8 months
“I would cry when I saw a baby born on TV”
“I was petrified about giving birth. I became obsessed with watching births on the Discovery Health TV channel and would cry every time a baby was born, thinking, ‘I just can’t do it.’ It wasn’t the thought of the pain, it was the unknown and what might happen.
“I was scared when I first went into labour, but as the pains went on, I thought, ‘I’ve just got to deal with this and get on with it, there’s nothing I can do about this now.’ In the end I had to have a forceps delivery, but it wouldn’t stop me doing it again.
“I wish someone had reassured me that all the worry in the world won’t change anything. The thought of giving birth was definitely scarier than actually doing it!”
Maria, 31, mum to Alex, 6 weeks