Fear and the Human Body
Fear has a huge impact on the normal (physiologic) processes of the human body; so it only makes sense that fear would have an impact on childbirth. Something that scares us activates our “fight or flight” system in our body. When you are afraid, it is hard to concentrate and recall information, for instance many people have test anxiety. Fear makes us sick to our stomachs because digestion is interrupted by stress hormones. This is because our bodies do not know what is causing our fear. Is it a tornado or a Biology exam? Is it a movie or is it real life? The response to our fear is the same – stop the normal everyday body functions and be ready to RUN! Heart rate and blood pressure and blood sugar increase and blood flow leaves our gut and heads to our legs so we can get away to safety.
The Role Fear Plays in Childbirth
I tell a simple story to our clients to illustrate how fear can affect their labor progress.
Imagine that you are a cave woman in early labor. You decide that you are hungry so you go for a walk in the woods hunting for berries to eat. As you forage in the forest nibbling on (delicious, organic) berries, the cramping strengthens and you find yourself leaning forward braced on the trees at times. The pressure in your pelvis increases and you decide to head back to your cave. The desire to bear down increases and your intuition moves you more directly toward your goal, a safe, quiet, dark cave.
Suddenly, a giant BEAR jumps out in front of you! Would you drop your baby out of your body right in front of that bear? NO!! your body-your amazing body, knowing it must protect you AND the baby, will stop the contractions, draw the baby back up inside of you and help you to RUN to safety.
Once back in the cave, it is likely to take several hours for the adrenaline and other stress hormones of the sympathetic nervous system to clear your body and normal labor to resume. Then in your small, safe environment without any bears (fear), your body will deliver your baby (and placenta) safely.
Childbirth Without Fear
We don’t know what each individual woman’s “bear” (fear) will be in labor. That is the purpose of prenatal visits where we discuss the birth and try to identify anything that will be a ‘bear” for her during labor. For some women, the hospital is very scary – these women can be in very active labor even 8 or 9 centimeters and upon admission to the hospital, stop contracting. We need to try to eliminate as many strangers, loud noises, bright lights and routine procedures as possible and then labor will resume. If her fear is too great, we may need to override her own physiologic process by medicating her for relaxation and maybe start Pitocin (medication to strengthen labor contractions). This is actually a very common occurrence on labor and delivery units. These women could be candidates for homebirth.
For others, their “bear” is NOT being with their midwives or in the hospital. They are terrified of being alone, not having their baby monitored carefully. These women can labor many hours and not progress with what appear to be a good strong labor pattern. And then upon admission to the hospital, with personnel all around and the fetal monitor beeping progress to delivery without difficulty. Some women are terrified of the IV or episiotomy or the pain or pooping at the birth. Some women have been sexually traumatized in their life and the sensations of childbirth can cause huge fear.
We need to be aware of these fears and try to work through them as much as possible before labor begins so that they do not become an obstacle to progress through labor and delivery.
Watch Episode 6 – Childbirth Without Fear to Learn More!
In Episode 6 of our reality show – Our Lives, Our Births, titled “Childbirth Without Fear – the Midwifery Model of Care”, we are illustrating how the midwifery model supports women throughout their pregnancy, birth and new motherhood to decrease fear and install confidence. Our clients tell you how childbirth is not scary for them because they are in their safe place with trusted providers. The Midwives of New Jersey are working to improve pregnancy and birth outcomes in New Jersey. Sharing this information will help people understand the positive impact of maternity care on birth outcomes. Enjoy this episode and please share with your friends and families!