Feeling frenzied all the time can take a toll on your fertility. Here’s how you can chillax and boost your odds of baby-making success.
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My friend Tina couldn’t even watch TV’s fictional Murphy Brown give birth. “From the time I was young, I was absolutely terrified of giving birth,” she says. Ninety minutes into her all-day childbirth-education class, Tina became so upset that she had to leave the classroom. “I just lost it—I started to cry and couldn’t get control of myself,” she recalls.
Julie, another woman who feared labor, developed heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and a racing pulse in her sixth month of pregnancy. It turned out that Julie had been in a near-constant state of hyperventilation brought on by her fear of childbirth.
While just about every woman feels some anxiety about labor and delivery, 6 to 10 percent of pregnant women suffer intense fear. This dread can manifest itself in such symptoms as nightmares, physical complaints and difficulties concentrating, according to studies by Terhi Saisto, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher at Helsinki University Central Hospital in Finland. But fear and its associated stress can also cause more serious problems which, over time, can contribute to both early and late deliveries, smaller babies and a higher risk for emergency Cesarean section.
What’s more, frightened women may actually experience more discomfort during childbirth than calm women do, according to Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., a Harvard Medical School expert on stress. Prenatal distress also is associated with postpartum depression and problems with a mother’s ability to bond with her child, says Saisto.
The good news is that there are ways to reduce your fear of childbirth. Here are 10 of them.
1. Track the source of your anxiety
Certain experiences can trigger an intense fear of labor; these include a history of abuse or rape, a past miscarriage or stillbirth, guilt over an abortion, a previous difficult delivery and excessive exposure to traumatic labor stories. Tina, for example, grew up hearing about how painful her own breech birth had been. Understanding why you’re so afraid is a first step toward easing that fear.
2. Don’t wait until labor day
Deal with your fears at the beginning of your pregnancy, not the end, recommends Heather Kleber, a certified childbirth educator and doula in Littleton, Colo. “Think about what your fears are and work through them early,” she says.
3. Consider therapy
In one of Saisto’s studies, women with an intense fear of labor who underwent cognitive (talk) therapy had shorter labors and fewer unnecessary C-sections than those who didn’t. “If a woman feels that her fear is taking over other aspects of her life, such as her intimate relationships, I usually suggest that she see a therapist,” says Margaret Plumbo, C.N.M., an instructor in the Nurse-Midwifery and Women’s Health Care program at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing.