Fear in Birth: How Fear Affects the Birth Process

How can fear in birth affect your labor, birth, and postpartum experience?

fear in birth

It is incredibly common for birthing families to have worries, fears, and anxieties about childbirth. Think of how childbirth is portrayed in our society. What images do we see in the media about birth? What are the stories we hear from others? Most birthing people confront some kind of fear in birth.

Firstly, I think it is important to consider the source of these fears. Our medical system that controls pregnancy care and birthing treats birth as a high-risk, emergency event that needs careful management. Also, I believe that we are totally separated from the birthing process in our current society. Home births used to be the norm, and we had exposure to birth and death within family rituals as a fact of life. This chasm has created a huge fear around birth, and we have lost sense of birth as a normal community ritual.

Common Fears in Birth

In my experience as a doula, some of the most common fears in birth are:

  • tearing
  • pain in pushing
  • bleeding
  • transition to parenthood
  • cesarean section
  • exposure (fear of being exposed to strangers)
  • trauma-related interactions
  • medical complications with mother or baby
  • bias/misogyny

Effects of Fear in Birth

The variety of fear-factors involved in modern pregnancy and birthing practices has a wide array of affects on birthing people. Firstly, fear creates hormonal changes in the body that work against your birthing hormones. The fight-or-flight fear response creates adrenaline. Secondly, adrenaline then works against the most powerful labor hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that drives contractions and progresses labor forward. Consequently, when a birthing person is in a fear state, adrenaline blocks oxytocin production. Then labor may stall and the pattern of labor progression may change because of this fear.

Fear in birth and pregnancy can even prolong the onset of labor. I have heard many birth stories where fear of birthing blocked a mother from going into labor. Fear affects the distribution and production of birth hormones in the body. Relaxation is important in late pregnancy and birth. It helps produce beneficial hormones for birth.

Fear produces adrenaline. Adrenaline then blocks oxytocin production in the body. Adrenaline will slow the labor process. It can cause slow to start labor, spaced out contractions, weakening of contractions, and slow or stalled dilation. Fear directly counters the process of opening and releasing that is necessary in birth.

Lastly, there is a link between fear, tension, and pain in birth. Fear creates tension in the body. Then, this tension can create resistance and pain in the body during labor. If you can reduce the tension, then you can reduce your level of pain. Therefore, reducing fear in birth can also reduce levels of pain experienced by the birthing person.

Some Thoughts on Calming Fears

I think that identifying and fighting your fears before birth is essential to preparing for a peaceful birth experience. The most predictable thing about birth is that it is unpredictable. However, one thing you can control is your own thoughts and your reactions. The first step in fighting your fears is to identify what they are. Make a list of your fears throughout your pregnancy. Ask yourself, “What do I need to know to counter this fear?” Do you need information or resources? Ask your care provider about your fears of birth. Make a plan to counter any remaining fears you have. Knowledge is power. Understanding your choices and gaining information is a major step in reducing fear in birth.

Take a great childbirth class.

Listen to podcasts to learn more about fighting fears.

Knowledge is power.

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