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Terrified of childbirth? 10 ways to cope

Pregnancy is an exciting time, but sometimes the fear of labor and delivery – as well as becoming a mom – can be overwhelming. If you’re anxious about giving birth, find out why you might be feeling this way and what you can do about it.

Why fear?

A woman’s body is designed to give birth, but TV shows, movies, and media messages often dramatize it. And as a woman grows up, “those images are ingrained in her head that birth is fearful, and it’s harmful,” according to Tara Owens Shuler, president of Lamaze International.

Unfamiliarity with the anatomy and physiology of the body, in addition to the birth process itself, can also cause a woman to be anxious and even doubt in her ability to give birth.  

Taking into account induction, C-section, and pain relief options during pregnancy, the fear can be intensified. “Birth in some settings is seen as a medicalized event,” said Owens Shuler.  She added some providers want to take control of a woman’s birth, and medical training often focuses on intervention, rather than on birth as a natural event.  

“There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty that’s unspoken,” said Dr. Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, Calif. Lederer said apart from the pain, women deal with a host of emotions during pregnancy. They put expectations on themselves and stress out about giving birth naturally, bonding with their baby in utero, and being a good parent.

If you’re worried about giving birth, here are 10 ways to handle your fear.

Get educated

A childbirth class can help you prepare, give you confidence, and manage your fears. A childbirth educator and a doula who provide information that isn’t fear-based can help debunk myths and give you ways to manage the pain, Owens Shuler said.

Choose your provider carefully

“We know that health care providers can profoundly affect women’s experience in birth,” Owens Shuler said. When looking for a provider, it’s important to ask questions and select someone who will build your confidence and support your decisions.

Let go of expectations

Many women put a time limit on labor, worry about opting for or against an epidural, and that other people will judge them for their decisions. And that pressure can impact your experience. “There aren’t any expectations except for the ones they put on themselves,” said Lederer, who runs a support group for expectant moms.

Try relaxation exercises

Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness meditation can all help to calm your body and your mind, so you’ll have less anxiety.

Use guided imagery

Practicing visualization can help you imagine a safe place if you start to feel overwhelmed during labor, Lederer said. Working with a therapist, childbirth educator, or support group is best but you can also download guided imagery exercises.

Make a mind body connection

Fear can cause labor to last longer, according to a recent study in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. But if you bring awareness to what’s happening in your body during labor, you’ll be better able to deal with your emotions, Lederer said.

Stop the stories

Your friend’s childbirth experience may have been traumatic for her, and although she might think she’s being helpful with her advice, “it’s really information that fuels the anxiety,” Owen Shuler said.

Understand the purpose of pain

Unlike any other type of pain, pain during labor and delivery doesn’t need to be fixed and it actually serves a purpose—to bring your baby into the world. If you recognize why it’s there and know ways you can cope with it, you’ll feel more confident in dealing with it.

Make it your own experience

Instead of comparing yourself to other moms, make decisions based on what you can handle and how you react in a situation, Lederer said.

Get support

Talking about your fears in a support group setting or with supportive mothers can help ease your anxiety. If your fear of childbirth is overwhelming, however, you might want to speak with a therapist.

Julie Revelant is a freelance writer and copywriter specializing in parenting, health, healthcare, nutrition, food and women's issues. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.