Try as they might, no one can ever fully prepare a woman for the experience of labor and childbirth. It’s impossible to fully convey all the feelings, thoughts, and emotions associated with any experience, much less one as life-changing as having a baby. Yes, we know it will hurt. It will take time. But does it take longer when a woman truly fears the experience or does it just seem that way?

Fear can indeed prolong the process. The human body releases a stress-provoked hormone called adrenalin when a person experiences fear or anxiety. Fear and anxiety are common feelings associated with pregnancy and these same emotions are heightened as labor begins and delivery approaches.

Fear releases adrenalin. Adrenalin slows contractions. The slower the contractions, the longer the labor process will last.

Coping With the Fear

  • One of the most effective ways to cope with a fear - any fear - is to confront it. Acknowledge it and turn to meditation or guided relaxation exercises during labor to soothe frazzled nerves.
  • Know you are in a safe environment where fear is understood and expected. It’s OK to cry or scream a bit.
  • Don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with trusted, loving family or friends. If embarrassment leaves you wanting privacy during the delivery, say so. Ask your support group to stay with you until you are ready for them to leave. They can always come back when you are ready to see them again.
  • Let your medical team know if fear has been an issue with previous deliveries. The memory of an intense fear or unpleasant, even frightening, experience during a previous delivery can trigger fear at the same stage of labor now. Let your medical team know what happened in the past so they can support you fully through it this time.

Past Sexual Abuse
Women who have experienced sexual abuse in their past may find the natural pain and discomforts of labor and childbirth trigger painful memories with exceptional intensity. Common birthing directives, such as “don’t fight it” or “just give in,” may be the exact words an abuser once used and they must be avoided now. Tell your doctor and your birthing team about this past experience so they can offer you optimum care with the gentlest touch now.

Regardless of the source of one’s fears, the emotional support of loving family, sympathetic friends, and a well-trained medical team will go a long way to alleviate the fears that may truly prolong the labor process. Start early in the pregnancy to master stress-relieving exercises such as deep breathing and visualization so you can turn to them easily as needed during labor. Ask for anxiety-relieving medication or anesthesia that will relax pelvic muscles too tightly contracted by fear.

Plan ahead, make arrangements, and practice coping skills so childbirth can happen with as little fear as possible because, yes, fear does prolong labor. It does not just seem that way.

Source: Leggitt, Kathryn, RNC, MS, CNM. “What Factors Influence the Progression of Childbirth?” Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. University of Minnesota. Jul 3, 2013. Web. Dec 31, 2013.