“The very thought of childbirth makes me nervous and anxious. My heart rate would go up and I would feel clammy. I actually avoid watching labour and delivery scenes in movies as I have been traumatized mentally by many negative birth stories I heard....I could imagine the day I delivered my baby, there would be chaos and panic in the delivery suite." These were shared with me by G, a 30-year-old first-time mum when she came for her first antenatal visit at 8 weeks of pregnancy.
G is not alone. According to research studies, about one in three mums is traumatized by childbirth. It is normal for pregnant mums to feel anxious about giving birth. This is especially so for first time mums. Many women worry about the health of their baby, the labour pain and /or whether they may need an epidural or a C-section for the delivery.
Studies have also found that women with anxiety during pregnancy have a longer labour than women who are not anxious. These women are also more likely to develop postpartum mental issues such as depression and mood disorders.
The “Fear-Tension-Pain” cycle was described by a British obstetrician in the 1920s. Fear causes women to become tense which in turn increases their pain. The increased pain then causes women to become more fearful, and the vicious cycle continues.
Mindset plays an important role in the birth experience. Even though birthing is unpredictable and medical emergencies do happen along the way, mental preparedness will help the mum to focus on the goal and calm her mind. This will usually result in a positive outcome.
Tips to allay birth anxiety
1. Positive affirmations by the partner and health professionals. Listening to and learning from positive labour stories may help.
2. Empower patients with knowledge of the physiology and anatomy of the birth process. Meditation and massaging the back can help reduce pain during early stage of labour
3. Encourage the patient to share her concerns with her obstetrician, including pain management during labour and the indications of a C-section. Information and awareness can help alleviate anxiety.
4. Calm the nerves by:
· Getting quality sleep every night. Lack of sleep can worsen your anxiety.
· Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps regulate gut bacteria, which researchers have linked to lessened anxiety.
· Regular exercise helps reduce anxiety and stress.
· A childbirth class and various breathing techniques can minimize stress
· Build a support system. Friends, supportive family members and uplifting social media groups can help ease anxiety by sharing the patient's feelings.
With positive affirmation from her spouse, G gradually changed her mindset on childbirth. She also attended childbirth classes which helped her understand the labour process better. Her antenatal course was uneventful. She went into spontaneous labour at 39 weeks of gestation. Under epidural anesthesia, G had a smooth vaginal delivery.