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Robin Elise Weiss, LCCE

Fear of Childbirth

By June 17, 2013

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An interesting study out of Norway caught my eye proclaiming that when women feared childbirth, their labors were about 47 minutes longer than those who did not fear childbirth. My gut reaction was, "Of course it does!" The doula in me has seen this hundreds of times.

There were some interesting points in this study. The epidural rates in both groups were incredibly low by American standards, 26.8% in the no fear group and only 44.8% in the fear group. They also found that the fear group had a higher rate of use of forceps/vacuum extraction. They postulate that the fear increases catecholamines, stress hormones, and therefore prolongs labor. This is the basic premise that most people who talk about stress in labor point out, though some catecholamines in labor are expected.

Communication with the practitioner is something that they bring up saying, "...fear of childbirth may be associated with poor communication." Then they say that not being about to communicate with the care provider may delay obstetric intervention and therefore delay labor. This may be more a product of the Norwegian system, because my take would be that the lack of communication may be part of the source of the fear to begin with, causing unwanted interventions.

I was pregnant at the same time that Olympic winning gymnast Mary Lou Retton had her first baby. I still recall watching her complete her routine three weeks after knee surgery, scoring a perfect 10 and thinking how horribly painful this must have been and how she described it as doing what she had to do to complete what she had trained for all those years. So when I listened to her talk about her fear of pain in labor, I was dumbfounded. How could she be afraid of labor after all of the aches and pains of being an Olympic gymnast? After all, her body was built for labor and it certainly was not built to withstand Olympic training. Listening to her made me realize that fear of labor wasn't the right way to look at it for me. So I came into my first birth with a healthy respect for labor, but not fear.

How do you manage fear or concerns about labor? That's where a good childbirth class, talking to your provider and a doula can all help. These all go to great lengths to address your personal fears about birth and parenting. Try not to feel overwhelmed. Finding the right support, which is sometimes professional, mental health support, can be very beneficial before labor.

Where do you fall in the healthy respect versus fear of labor scope?


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Adams, S. S., Eberhard-Gran, M., & Eskild, A. (2012). Fear of childbirth and duration of labour: a study of 2206 women with intended vaginal delivery. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, no-no. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2012.03433.x

Photo April's Grape Vine Photography

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