Many, or even most first-time mothers are anxious or afraid of childbirth. We can certainly put this down to the way we (as a society) portray birth, and the experiences that others share with women when they’re pregnant or even before that stage in their life. From a very young age, most women are conditioned to believe that birth is a painful event where they won’t have much of a say in what happens to them and their bodies. And it’s true, many people experience labour and birth like that. But does it really have to be that way? Like Google says? When you google “childbirth”, things that come up as results include “ring of fire”, “forceps” and “pain”. There is a different perspective on birth, too! Unfortunately, not too many pregnant women have people close to them that say more helpful things like: “You do have a choice.”, or “Birth is nothing to be worried about, it can be a wonderful experience.”
We also live in a time where birth is seen as a medical event, during which women need to be helped, if not “saved”. Women’s bodies are often seen as “faulty”, intervention seems the only logical way to deal with these faulty bodies, and is deemed necessary. Many caregivers in that context say that their ultimate goal is a healthy mum and healthy baby – what we culturally really want to achieve these days though is a living mum, and a living baby – whatever it takes. Death is a huge cultural taboo, and needs to be avoided at all cost. And the price some families pay is quite high… The amount of women that suffer from postnatal depression or even PTSD is higher than most people think (more info here) – many times women’s birth experiences would have contributed greatly to these outcomes. While some medical advancements have made births safer for mothers and babies, the current development (i. e. more interventions, particularly c-sections, but also instrumental births and the “speeding up” (or augmention) of labour) is a step backwards, as the effects of using them routinely are still unknown (here’s a corresponding statement from the WHO in relation to caesareans). So I get that there’s a lot to be worried about. But, there is also a lot you can do to overcome the hurdles that can get in the way of your dream birth! In my opinion, the biggest one is fear – so here are some suggestions how to deal with these negative thoughts in preparation for your birth:
1. Stop googling – relax!
There’s this whole new world ahead of you – all you need to do is put down your phone!
Yes, that’s right. I know, it’s the 21st century and Dr. Google is our friend. But not necessarily when it comes to birth, because unfortunately people that have had terrible experiences share them – they’re EVERYWHERE. Spare yourself these stories – they won’t be helpful. If you still want to read them, at least discuss your worries and thoughts with your care provider. Instead, use all that time you have saved by putting your phone down, and relax instead: Just practise to breathe after long work days, feel your baby and your body, and do something that relaxes you – have some time to yourself. Regular mindfulness meditations are a great way to unwind any time. There are many guided meditations out there, pregnancy/birth related ones and others that will help you to relax and overcome your fear. There’s also a free app called “Mind the Bump” with regular meditations.
2. Find the right caregiver(s)
This probably sounds simpler than it actually is. According to this Cochrane review, midwife-led continuity of care creates the best outcomes for women and babies. However, only women with low-risk pregnancies can receive such care in public hospitals in Australia at the moment.
An alternative are private practising midwives. With Governments making it more and more difficult for them to support women during their birth though, choices for expecting women to achieve continuity of care are becoming slimmer. Legal hurdles prevent many midwives from attending homebirths. The current situation (until the end of 2019) is that, through an exemption, they are not legally required to have professional indemnity insurance for births. In reality, self-employed midwives can only be insured for pre- and postnatal care and births in hospitals (for which they need admitting rights that are hard to get), but not for homebirths, as explained on this website by the Australian College of Midwives.
If your pregnancy is going well and without any complications, you can receive antenatal care from a midwife. Remember: Midwives are the experts in normal childbirth. More hospitals are creating low-risk birth centres (that are usually attached to and still somewhat under the guidelines of a bigger hospital) and Midwifery Group Practices, where a group of midwives care for you during your pregnancy. If you develop complications during your pregnancy, you may be referred to the hospital, and will birth your baby there instead. Your known midwife might stay with you even if you need to go to the hospital.
If you don’t want to or can’t have a midwife, a GP Obstetrics might be a good fit for you. This is a GP with additional training, who can provide you with antenatal care, postnatal care and will also be there when you have your baby. We have some of these here in Perth.
There is also the option of hiring an obstetrician. If you are planning a natural birth, it is always a good idea to look at the numbers of your care provider (rate of cesaerean, episiotomies, instrumental births for example). You might also want to see different ones and decide afterwards which one you feel comfortable with. Talk to them about their expectations, and see if they are willing to accomodate your wishes. Most importantly though, trust your intuition.
Choosing the right caregiver for the birth you want will take away some of your fear. Either way, this alone probably won’t be enough – there are other very important factors that will impact your birth experience and level of fear, which leads me to the next point.
3. Surround yourself with the right people
We all have people close to us that have nothing positive to say about birth: Things like they almost bled out, they would have died without being saved by hospital staff, they were in so much pain during labour and really needed that epidural (because, you know, everyone does in the end – it just doesn’t work without!), their vagina is so beautiful and intact because they had a c-section (I recently saw someone on Facebook using the wording “pristine state”), you name it… For starters, always acknowlede and understand that this is their story and experience, not yours. You have two options: Ask them to spare you with their experiences while you’re preparing for your birth and are somewhat vulnerable, and don’t want to be negatively influenced. Or: Stay away from them altogether.
The next step is to find people that can share positive birth stories- this is particularly important – no matter the circumstances. Listen to people that had a wonderful homebirth, ones that had an induction and felt it was an amazing experience, as well as people that found their ceasarean empowering. If you can’t think of anyone to talk to, you can also read positive birth stories (more about that later). But I can guarantee you that once you reach out, there will be some people that are happy to share their stories with you. There are also regular antenatal meet-ups organised through the The Positive Birth Movement – they are free and open to everyone – go there! Your local midwives and doulas might also run workshops about birth topics. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong when it comes to childbirth. Even if you consider yourself to be a bit more conservative, don’t worry, not all people that have good things to say about birth are hippies. No, you don’t need to be against antibiotics, love chiropractors or use essential oils to have a great birth experience (being open-minded generally helps, though). You don’t have to be a professional belly dancer, swim in holy water, or have Brazilian waxing in preparation either (If you like to do any of these things, go ahead! Just debunking some myths here…). Promise!
4. Get educated
There are so many programs out there to prepare you and your partner for the birth of your baby. And while some birth workers might have a favourite, the only thing that should matter is that you find what works for you. The most important thing is that they are independent childbirth classes – don’t solely rely on the information that is provided in free hospital antenatal classes, they cover very different topics! During alternative classes, you will learn about the physiology of birth (how a normal, natural birth unfolds), ways to keep calm and comfortable during labour (including breathing and relaxation techniques, positions and natural options for pain relief), how to overcome fear, and much more. You will typically also get meditation recordings that you will listen to regularly. While more research is needed to prove how beneficial these programs are, this study indicates that practising self-hypnosis lowers the chances of anxiety and fear associated with childbirth. Ask mothers that have birthed using breathing, relaxation and self-hypnosis techniques, they will tell you how much it helped them. If you can’t find the time or don’t have the money to attend in person, there are online versions of these courses, as well as books and CDs. One of the most important tools you will learn is how to ask the right questions and make decisions, even when your birth doesn’t go to plan.
I can’t say it often enough: Knowledge is power. It’s that simple. All the thought and preparation you put into your birth beforehand will pay off on the day. It is important that you know your options, because you won’t be able to make informed decisions without knowing about the process of giving birth and the possible interventions. Another good reason to attend classes is to meet like minded people (if it’s a group class). Read about the different programs, maybe listen to some of the tracks, then decide which one you like best. They are well worth the investment!
See, this is your first baby. You may not believe me, but you have a lot of time on your hands to get prepared. Use it wisely! Read helpful books, articles and blogs to get you into the right mindset and to get informed (not just surfing the internet, hoping for helpful information and then ending up finding horror stories or reading articles about celebrities again!).
Reading… Can’t start early enough! My first babe started loving books before she could walk!
Here are some suggestions for information that will help you to achieve a natural birth and make informed choices:
Books in preparation for birth and parenting:
- Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering (Dr Sarah Buckley)
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (Ina May Gaskin)
- Birth with Confidence (Rhea Dempsey)
- Birthing From Within (Pam England)
- Parenting By Heart (Pinky McKay)
There are many helpful blogs written by midwives, doulas and childbirth educators out there – see which ones you like (local ones are particularly helpful and relevant).
- Rockstar Birth Magazine – amazing birth stories! They also have a Facebook Group called “Natural Hospital Birthing”
- Evidence Based Birth – Information based on current research, provided and well explained by nurse Rebecca Dekker
- Midwife Thinking – Blog by the amazing Dr Rachel Reed, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery
- Dr Sarah Buckley – GP Obstetrics, well-known specialist in the field and author of “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering”
- Dr Hannah Dahlen – Professor of Midwifery and well-known researcher
6. Get physically prepared
When you read articles about pregnancy, most of them encourage you to eat a healthy diet and keep fit in pregnancy… And I have to agree with the authors of these articles! Labour is a physically and mentally challenging task, and it’ll be easier for you if you nurture your body before your baby arrives. On a side note, fit and healthy doesn’t necessarily mean you have a certain BMI, or weight.
If you enjoy long walks, go for walks. Swimming is also amazing (the only chance you will ever forget about that giant belly!). And (even though I’m not a huge fan myself), yoga is also a good way to stay active in pregnancy. A healthy diet in pregnancy will also help to strenghten your body, and keep you and your baby healthy. Regular massages will help your body to be balanced and relaxed throughout your pregnancy and birth. Make sure to find a therapist that is adequately trained in pregnancy massages. If you have any questions or concerns about exercise, nutrition or lifestyle during pregnancy, you should always discuss these with your care provider.
7. Hire a doula
No, I’m not just saying that because I am a doula. I might be telling you that as a mum who had a doula and an amazing birth! Regardless of the caregiver(s) and place of birth you choose, your doula will always be there for you and your family. There are no words to describe the difference that can make to your birth outcome – having a friendly, familiar face and constant presence of a trusted person to support you during this imporant time! Your doula will also help you to build up the right mindset before your birth, as well as showing you and your partner comforting techniques for pregnancy and labour, like light touch massage or accupressure points, and provide information for any questions you might have.
If you’re still not sure, here is an article with some pretty impressive evidence in favour of a support person like a doula.
And if you are interested in hiring one, luckily there are many around (including myself) 🙂
I hope these ideas will help you to prepare for the birth of your baby, to feel more confident and be able to let go of your fear and believe in yourself and your abilities. I wish you all the best for your birth journey!
My name is Kristina Fuderer and I am a doula who has trained at the Doula Training Academy. My mission is to support expecting and new families in the Perth area to achieve the pregnancy, birth and postnatal care they dream of. If you would like to talk more about your birthing options, please contact me: