Birth fear is something that has been handed down to us in the last few generations. Everywhere you turn, people are more than willing to tell you the horror story of their birth or their fear of dying during childbirth.
It hasn’t always been this way. There was a time when birth was just a normal part of life, something that we did to bring children into the world. It wasn’t to be feared, it was a necessity, and something to be celebrated. Yet, today, many people admit to anxiety about giving birth.
With the invention of TV, we now have the ability to use birth to create great TV, and great TV always involves drama. This has not only lead to a skewed view of what birth actually looks like, it has created a fear of the unknown.
When you’re afraid of something, it creates an adrenaline reaction in your body. Adrenaline is what give us the fight or flight reaction.
Now, if you’re a deer giving birth in the woods, this adrenaline dump can work to your advantage.
When there is a predator nearby, the adrenaline stops labor in its tracks and then you run…….because if you’re a deer, there isn’t really an option to fight.
Once you’ve reached safety, you can find a nice calm, dark place to settle in, let the oxytocin begin to flow, and next thing you know, the contractions are back and the baby is being born!
The exact same thing happens in humans. Our biological feedback system of hormones is very similar to that of any other pregnant animal. The two biggest hormones that factor into the labor process are oxytocin (the love hormone) and adrenaline (the fear hormone).
This complex feedback loop of hormones begins in the very early stages of pregnancy when your body begins to produce the extra progesterone it needs to sustain a pregnancy. We’ve all felt that and know the havoc it wreaks on our bodies, but the fear hormone is a much bigger issue.
Oxytocin is the hormone that makes you happy and weepy when you think of your beautiful little baby all warm and snuggly inside of you. It helps reduce pain and it makes you want your partner a little more in the second trimester. It’s all the ooey gooey hearts and flowers that make pregnancy and labor worth it. It’s also what tells your uterus to contract to help bring your baby out.
Adrenaline, on the other hand, could be considered the fear hormone. This is what makes your heart race when you’re driving down the street and someone swerves into your lane, or wakes you with a jump when you have a dream that you’re falling.
Unfortunately, our big brains can come up with all kinds of things to be fearful of with pregnancy and birth. Fear starts early on with reading negative birth stories online that give you a fear of tearing during birth and talking to your mother who ALMOST DIED giving birth to your 10 lb brother. Things like money situations, worry about the baby’s health, and wondering how much pain is normal during birth can also increase adrenaline.
Adrenaline stops oxytocin in its tracks.
Adrenaline is what you feel during transition.
We’ve all heard the stories.
“I’m done. I’m going home.” (flight)
“I couldn’t relax no matter what I did, (fight) but once I got the epidural my labor sped up.”
Adrenaline and oxytocin don’t play well together. They cancel each other out.
When your contractions are slowing down, but they need to get going, turning down the lights, cuddling with your partner and being supported in your decisions gets the oxytocin flowing again and helps the contractions come back.
We’ve all heard those stories too.
“We were sleeping so good, best sleep I’ve had in a long time, and then the contractions started.”
“We had just curled up on the couch to watch a movie when my water broke.”
These are examples of oxytocin at work.
Did you also know that people who have unsupportive family members, a stressful situation with their partner, or fear of unwanted interventions are more likely to have slower labors, stalled labors, and other complications that keep labor from progressing?
Thankfully, we know that oxytocin can counteract that, and if we can help a pregnant person to relax, feel safe and heard, loved and comfortable, things can, usually, be turned around. For those that just can’t quite get there on their own, there is a lovely tool called Pitocin that mimics oxytocin and reminds the body what it needs to be doing.
So how do we avoid this adrenaline bio feedback loop in the first place? Start with choosing your birth team wisely. Everyone in the room should be someone you trust with your safety and the safety of your baby. Avoid negative and unsupportive people.
If someone wants to tell you their birth horror story, don’t allow it.
Create a comfortable environment that allows you to relax and let the oxytocin flow. Educate yourself on your options ahead of time so that even if your birth doesn’t go to plan, you understand what is happening and you are better able to avoid the adrenaline rush. When the adrenaline rush does come during transition, be ready with comfort measures and support people who can help you through until it passes, so that you can re-find your focus and bring your baby earth side.
And for your most stress-free birthing experience, consider hiring a doula to support and encourage you throughout the entire process. Our experienced professional doulas in Denver, Colorado Springs, Castle Rock, and other Colorado cities are ready to help you rock your birth – hit the “contact” tab above to get started.