Being pregnant can be a roller coaster of emotion – elation and excitement about having a baby one minute; trepidation and uncertainty about the responsibilities of being a mother the next. Then, as the months go by, the realisation sets in that there is a process of birth that you have to go through before you can hold your baby in your arms. In all of this, I think there are probably few pregnant women who haven’t experienced some kind of anxiety.
If you’re anxious about giving birth, it’s important to deal with it as soon as possible. Pregnancy is a special time in a woman’s life, a time to enjoy as much as possible. You want to provide a calm environment for the little life growing inside you and, if you go into the birth feeling anxious, it can have an effect on how smoothly your labour goes. A pioneer of natural childbirth, Dr Grantly Dick-Read, identified back in the early 20th century that fear and anxiety caused tension in the body, making labour more painful than it was when mothers were relaxed and had positive expectations.
Here are some top tips on dealing with anxiety about birth:
Accept that what you’re feeling is natural and normal
If this is your first baby, it’s understandable that you don’t know quite what to expect. Even if you’ve already got an older child, every birth is different, so some anxiety and worries about how it’s going to turn out are normal. You want to have the best possible birth for you and your baby, but so often the media and stories you might hear from family and friends portray the negative aspects of birth. Hormones can be all over the place during pregnancy and wreak havoc with your emotions, so be kind to yourself. Don’t get anxious about being anxious.
Avoid negative birth stories
Portrayals of birth on TV and in films are usually overly dramatic and actually unrealistic. They will only feed your anxiety. Normal births are really quite boring and don’t make good drama. If you watch programmes like ‘One Born Every Minute’ or repeats of ‘Call the Midwife’ – stop! Sometimes new mums (and not so new mums) like to outdo each other by recounting the nitty gritty of their labour.
If someone starts telling you the negative stuff that they went through, politely but firmly, say that you want to approach your labour expecting the best, and change the subject. Instead, look at the websites and YouTube videos that show the normal, positive side of giving birth. However, get your partner or a trusted friend to vet them first for positive content.
Get information from reliable sources
Some of my clients have worried unnecessarily about aspects of birth, because they’d got wrong impressions from things they’d seen or heard, or weren’t sure what hospital policy was. Once they’d talked to me or to their midwife, they felt a lot more reassured. Always talk to someone knowledgeable and supportive about your anxiety and concerns.
It really is true that no question is a stupid question, so make the most of ante-natal classes and advice from health professionals to set your mind at rest and get sound factual information about labour and birth. Feeling as prepared as possible can do a lot to lessen anxiety.
Trust in your body’s ability to give birth
If you’re pregnant, you are fully capable of giving birth – your body is designed for it. Birth has become a medicalised process, which can make you think that you need lots of help to bring your baby into the world. Until relatively recently, hospital births were unusual. The NHS itself acknowledges that childbirth is a natural process: ‘For the majority of women, pregnancy and childbirth are normal life events requiring minimal intervention.‘ Department of Health National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services 2004
With the right techniques, it is totally possible to give birth without chemical pain relief and medical intervention. You will certainly feel your muscles working, but it need not be painful, if you relax and have the positive expectation that your body instinctively knows how to give birth to your baby.
Relaxation is one of the absolute best antidotes to anxiety, because it calms the body’s fight or flight response, which is triggered by anxiety. As well as being effective for anxiety, relaxation is proven to have immense benefits for health and wellbeing in general.
Practising relaxation regularly will support your physical and mental health during pregnancy and give you essential preparation for giving birth. The best relaxation techniques to use are breathing techniques and muscle relaxation. Going to an ante-natal yoga class is a good place to learn these.
Practise mindfulness or meditation
Anxiety can be a bit like a runaway train, where your thoughts spin off into worst case scenarios and you get stuck in negative spirals. Mindfulness and meditation can be extremely helpful in taking control of your thoughts. You learn to get less caught up in negative thought patterns, to calm your mind and find more helpful ways of thinking. Managing your thoughts in this way is important, so that you can go into labour with the right mindset.
Recognise that your thoughts are not the truth
Anxiety is caused by the way you think and the good news is that you can change the way you think. The first step is realising that your thoughts are just thoughts, no matter how all-consuming they seem to be, and that anxiety is letting your imagination get the better of you. You can tackle anxious thoughts by nipping them in the bud and challenging them.
When you’re aware that you’re starting to think negatively, ask yourself how realistic your fears are and how helpful it is to think in this way (not at all). Have some positive and more realistic thoughts to focus on, such as: ‘My body is made to give birth to my baby. It will instinctively know what to do when the time comes.’ ‘I’m preparing myself as well as I can to give birth to my baby and I will have help and support during my labour.’
Sometimes it isn’t so easy to shift anxiety, because you need to deal with it at its point of origin, the unconscious mind. If you feel you could do with some help in overcoming your anxiety, consider seeking out a suitably qualified therapist.
If you’re in the South West London area, please contact Anne Williams of Transforming Birth. As a hypnotherapist, Anne specialises in helping women lift their anxiety in a few sessions, so that they can enjoy a worry-free pregnancy and go on to have a calm labour and birth. You can also download her free ‘Transforming Birth Guide to an Easy Labour and a Calm and Comfortable Birth’ from www.transforming-birth.co.uk