It’s completely normal to have anxiety around delivering a baby—many women fear the prospect of pain, while others worry about undignified behaviour (yes, pooping on the table does happen!) or needing to have interventions. Others are simply scared of becoming a parent. ‘It’s not surprising to be afraid of labour and delivery’ says Sandra Healy, a Community Midwife in UMHL who works with women during pregnancy. “It’s hard work, and it’s completely unknown,” she says.
From pooing to tearing, there are plenty of worries and fears you might have surrounding birth. But the more you know, the less scared you’ll be.
The good news is there are steps you can take to help manage your fears.
1. Talk it out:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk about what’s bothering you. Hammer suggests speaking with someone—a partner, friend, doctor, or therapist, (thankfully in Ireland the Maternity services now offer a Perinatal Mental Health Service), about your feelings as soon as something comes up, no matter how insignificant you think it might be. Expressing your thoughts can help you understand them, which will give you insight into how to cope. And while it may be tempting to avoid thinking about labour, ignoring your worries can make the fear grow. In some cases, it can also affect your mental health during pregnancy. “If fear is not addressed, it can manifest as depression or anxiety,” she explains.
Just be careful about who you confide in. “Get quality advice from level-headed people,” Healy advises. Friends and family often like to share birth horror stories, but it’s more helpful to hear positive ones, he explains. Talk to professionals who see birth as a normal process and won’t scare you with worst-case scenarios. If you have any pre-existing Mental Health conditions, it is important that are continously linked in with your team throughout the pregnancy.
Below is a really useful lecture on the importance of Perinatal Mental Health from Dr Richard Duffy. Dr Duffy is a consultant in perinatal psychiatry working in the Rotunda; he also works in liaison psychiatry in the Mater Hospital. It’s an excellent insight into the services that are currently available in Ireland and the Importance of such services.
2. Fill your tool box:
If pain is your big fear, then make sure you know what options are available in terms of pain management. Just knowing you have tools at hand may ease your worries. Varying birth positions may make labour go more smoothly, says Healy. One trick: Start training your brain to think of contractions as sensations that will help you deliver your baby, and learn how to breathe and relax into them instead of fighting them. (Prenatal yoga and meditation classes can work wonders with this. The early stages of labour are the slowest by nature and optimising physical movement during this process is hugely beneficial. Attached below is a demonstration from a physiotherapist based in the Rotunda Hospital. Gráinne discusses how to apply these strategies to labour and the rationale and benefits associated with these techniques.
3. Break it down:
While it’s a good idea to be prepared, try not to focus all of your energy on thoughts about the delivery. “When I talk to families, I split everything up: what happens before the birth day, on the birth day and then everything that happens after,” explains Healy. “If you compartmentalize it, you can deal with each section instead of looking at birth as this huge monster.”
4. Go team:
During labour, every time I got scared, I would look at him,” Sandra recalls from her own birthing experience “That’s how I remember getting through it. He did things naturally that I didn’t even think of, like dim the lights and talk to me when I got scared.”
Picking the right people to be with you can help reassure you. A strong ally, like a friend or your partner, can advocate for you, especially if you go in with a birth plan that everybody is comfortable with. “Sometimes the fear is about having your power taken away,” says Healy. “That does happen in some cases, unfortunately, so think about what you will do when suddenly it feels like things are not in your control.” Have a team you trust to help you, and know that you can always ask questions as you go along.Just remember, no matter how scared you are, you will get through it.
Yoga can help prepare the body for birth (and help you relax). Try the bound ankle pose. Sitting on the ground, bring the bottoms of your feet together. Interlace your fingers around your toes, take a deep breath and feel the stretch. And the importance of antenatal education cannot be emphasised enough. Not knowing how labour will feel can make it seem scary.
A common fear that Women have is could my vagina get damaged when I give birth?
Your whole body changes after pregnancy and labour, so you can’t expect the major player to come off completely unscathed. “Your vagina will get stretched, but it will go more or less back to normal after a few months, and to the naked eye it won’t look any different,” says Healy. “The most important thing is to look after your pelvic floor muscles to sort out inside your vagina. The extra weight of pregnancy puts them under strain. Below is an informative video from Aoife, a physiotherapist in the Rotunda Hospital Dublin:
Finally Below are some practical tips from the Podcast ‘The Business of Babies’ on how packing your hospital bags properly can shed a lot of stress during your stay. For this Podcast I will be your host, I feel I am qualified to give some advice on this topic as I have worked as labour ward Midwife at University Hospital Limerick for the past 6 years. If you have any tips for any parents to be on packing a hospital bag, please feel free to leave advice in the comment section below.