How Fear Affects Childbirth

In our current society, there is a lot of fear associated with birth.

What if I can’t achieve my birthing goals?

What if baby gets hurt or injured?

What if I get hurt or injured?

With birth being such a different and variable experience for each and every woman, it makes sense that many women are afraid and nervous about their birth. To make matters worse, birth is often portrayed in dramatic TV shows or movies as this horrendously painful and frightening experience. You know the scene: mom is being wheeled into the OR, screaming in agony, hospital staff and doctors running all around, talks of distress and needing to operate. While there are plenty of risks involved with birth, it doesn’t have to be and isn’t normally such a dramatic and frightening experience. To further understand this concept, we must first understand the hormones at play during labor and how fear is an inhibitor for a woman in labor.

Women are often told that labor is the greatest pain anyone will ever experience. Many women may tell you this was true of their experience, but many women will not. Birth is a unique experience for every mother, for every pregnancy. I know, personally, no two of my labors and births were equal – even in regard to pain levels. When you become afraid, you tense up. This tension envelopes your body and can often not allow the necessary muscles to relax and open up, as is necessary. Furthermore, your hormones play such a major part of your labor that it’s important to understand which hormones are at play as well as which ones help or hinder your progress.

Contractions are caused by the hormone oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”. Along with oxytocin, your body is producing endorphins that naturally help manage pain. Together, these hormones regulate your contractions and, typically speaking, keep your labor progressing towards the ultimate goal – birth!

So what happens when you are afraid or tense?

Your body releases adrenaline. In doing so, your body reduces its output of oxytocin and endorphins. This causes less productive and more painful contractions as you are missing the hormones that help aid your contractions along. Ever hear the term “fight or flight”? When your body is afraid and the adrenaline starts pumping, your body needs to decide whether or not to fight this fear or run away from it. In the case of birth, you likely feel vulnerable, possibly exposed. Think back to our ancient ancestors giving birth in the wild – if they were feeling afraid, they probably didn’t want to give birth until they found a safe and comforting place to do so!

The same is true today. It may not be because a predator is lurking in the shadows and we fear our babies being eaten for lunch; but your body and your hormones will react in the same way. Your body needs to feel safe, comfortable, secure, and relaxed to properly release those hormones. In doing so, your muscles can relax, your body can open, and you can feel empowered instead of afraid.

pregnant woman

hospital birth

“There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are STRONG.”

– Laura Stavoe Harm –

“Giving birth should be your greatest achievement, not your greatest fear.”

– Jane Weideman –

“Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.”

– Ina May Gaskin –