I remember something my friend Gill said to me a couple of weeks before I was due to have my first child. She was heavily pregnant with baby number two, and we were going on maternity leave the same week. “Don’t forget, the pain might seem bad at times, but you KNOW it’s going to end. It’s not like being really ill and not knowing how or when you’re going to get better – this is an intense moment, that rarely lasts more than a few hours, and at the end of it you’ll feel better again.”
You wouldn’t believe what a comfort those words became during the birth, three weeks later – and she was right!
The fear of childbirth pain, in pregnancy
No one can wave a magic wand and tell you exactly what your birth experience is going to be. Sure, there are ways you can help to improve your chances of a less painful birth (see below), but ultimately, sometimes even those who have planned ahead to have a caesarian section find that baby arrives early and they get through a natural birth perfectly well!
- Concentrate on now You don’t have to lock away your fear of the future, but getting in touch with having a healthy pregnancy by learning to relax, eat well and coming to terms with the changes to your body gradually, as you go through the trimesters, will help you arrive at the birth date much better armed with the confidence that comes with a better understanding of the whole process.
- Voice your fears. You’ll find that other women are not only going through the same doubts and feelings as you, but that other women have been there, done it, and have come back with some valuable supportive comments for you!
If you have specific questions or fears, especially if a past health issue has made you wary of medical procedures, hospitals etc, do raise your concern with your GP or midwife. If you don’t feel you get a satisfactory answer, try going to the NHS website or calling NHS Direct on 0845 4647. (Or talk to the consultant overseeing your pregnancy, who you should expect to see personally at least once during your antenatal appointment schedule).
It’s worth remembering that even if you know or are related to someone who has had a very negative birth experience, it doesn’t mean you will. Women all round the world give birth safely every day with many less resources to support them than you will have – whether you are having your baby at home or at hospital.
- Be prepared Sometimes resolving small niggles helps you feel better about big unknowns. (I felt much better knowing I’d packed my hospital overnight bag by 36 weeks, and that I had collected together enough change for the parking meters at the hospital. I even wrote out all the birthday cards I would need to send off for about the following six weeks – it helped me feel more ready!)
- Understand your options If you are having your baby at a clinic or in hospital, you’ll find that seeing the labour rooms will help you picture more of what to expect.
Even if you are having private antenatal classes (with a birth centre, a doula or even someone like NCT) it’s worth also going to at least one NHS-organised lesson so you can see what your local hospital facilities and birth team are like. Then, if you find your home birth turns into a hospital emergency, at least you will know better what to expect.
You don’t have to commit yourself as soon as you are pregnant to the details of where and how you give birth, but looking at the various birthing options now might help to get your head round the fact that there are lots of ways you can find what works for you.
- Check out your pain relief options As well as how you might have your baby, you can have a look at your pain relief options for labour and birth too. However, don’t get too fixated on these as your needs or what you think you might need will change over the pregnancy weeks or months ahead.
- Be positive but realistic Turn the expectation into a positive anticipation to feed your energy, but don’t set yourself any locked-tight goals like, “I will have no pain relief!” or, “I will have my baby in two hours flat!” You can aim for these, by all means, but bear in mind that birth is unpredictable, and if you do end up resorting to pain relief or even undergoing a caesarian it’s because it’s the best option at the time for you and your baby. Setting high goals can sometimes mean you are left feel deflated after the birth when you should be feeling a great sense of achievement, whatever the circumstances of your child’s birth.
How you can prepare your body to improve your chances of enduring less pain?
As we have said above, no-one can guarantee they are going to have the birth they planned for, but there are ways in which you can improve your body’s readiness for labour and birth, and knowing that you have got this better in order will hopefully make you feel more confident about facing the birth.
- Feel fitter There’s no need to turn into superwoman, but gentle pregnancy exercise can help you not only strengthen your body for the birth ahead, but it also will release those feelgood endorphins which help you feel more positive about your whole pregnancy.
- Think about an active birth These days even NHS antenatal classes encourage women to try for a more active birth.
Unlike the outdated concept of getting a woman on a table, leaning back in a position that actually makes the passage out of the womb and through your pelvis the most narrow it could possibly be (!), an active birth is one where a woman is encouraged to move around, using positions like crouching, whilst engaging her breathing and the support of her partner to get through the labour pains and the birth with much less medical intervention.
Even if you don’t have your baby in an active birth position, using the methods to ease labour pains can help speed up the contractions stage (being more active means your contractions are less likely to suddenly slow down), and help you stave off needing drugs or other invasive birthing methods when the time comes.
Ask your midwife if she knows of active birth classes in your area or go online to search for some near you. You will also find that the NHS classes and groups like NCT are more supportive of these kinds of methods nowadays.
Even just the experience of talking about these kinds of positions and positive birthing ideas, in sessions with other expectant mothers, can really help in the weeks before the birth, to prepare you mentally as well as physically.