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How Fear Affects The Birth Process- Let’s Get Scientific!

We’re here to tell you that whilst you might think that birth is a scary, painful experience that you’ve just got to ‘get through’, it actually could be the best fucking day of your life!

We are constantly exposed to negative ideas about birth in the media, in the language that’s used around us throughout our lives (‘it’s a pain worse than childbirth!’ as if that must be fucking awful then!).

Well, what about if we told you that these negative thoughts we have about labour and birth are all leading towards us actually having a negative birth experience? Let us tell you more…

So What’s The Science Behind All This?

Well, human brains are incredibly complex and intelligent. However, they ain’t perfect we can tell you that! Our brain is made up of many parts all with their own incredible job to do. One of the oldest parts of the brain contains the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This is responsible for setting off reactions in your body based on how we feel. So when we see someone we love, we feel good. When we see something we’re scared of, we feel bad.

The purpose of this is to get us ready for what our brain is perceiving is about to happen, based on what our senses are telling it and our thoughts and feelings around that.

For example, if we hear the front door open and steps in the hallway as we expect our partner home from work, we may feel excitement, relief, joy etc. All because we expected this and we have good feelings associated with our partner returning home, hopefully! These are all feelings we associate with safety, the norm etc. and this is called the Parasympathetic response

However, if we hear the front door open and footsteps in the hallway when we are NOT expecting to be disturbed, our brain knows that this is NOT GOOD. As a result it will begin to set off reactions in our body which get us ready to deal with a threat, known as the Sympathetic response or ‘fight or flight’. Now it may all be for nothing, perhaps it’s some over friendly family member coming by for a visit and you’re not in any danger, but just in case, your brain has made sure that you and your body are as ready to take on danger as you can be.

It will have increased your breathing rate, helping you to build adrenaline in your body, making you able to do more, physically than usual, making you wake up and be alert even if you were previously chilling on the sofa. It will have made your heart rate increase, pumping oxygenated blood to your defence mechanisms, your arms and legs. So you’re ready to run or fight this danger that’s coming your way. It will give you a dry mouth, which is a side effect of your body shutting off non vital functions in your body to conserve as much energy as possible to instead use to get out of this situation.

It’s doing all of this stuff, purely based on how you FEEL about this. Now this is key to bringing this back to birth. Because how we feel has a huge impact on when the fight or flight response is set off. For example, remember the sound of your partner returning home as you expected? Well if you had just been watching a horror movie before this or it came minutes after reading a newspaper article about home invasion, you may instead set off the fight or flight response rather than the lovely calm parasympathetic response that was more apt.

So Now You Know What Your Brain Is Playing At When You Start To Feel Those Symptoms Of Fight Or Flight, But How Does This Interact With Birth?

Well how do you feel about birth? Based on what you’ve heard about it, read about it, been told about it? Does it sound like something that you will enjoy? That you feel excited about? Something safe? Or does it feel like something you’d want to stay the hell away from if it wasn’t the only way to get this damn baby out? Now if it’s the latter (and it is for so many people) then what can often happen when labour kicks off is that same fight or flight response being set off. The brain perceives birth as something dangerous and kicking off as if you need saving.

As a result, the breathing rate increases, sending that adrenaline around our body, ready to run or fight and slowing the hormones of birth meaning that birth slows or stops. Now this would be SUPER helpful if we were really in a dangerous situation and needed that process to stop whilst we escaped that. However, it is not helpful at all when we aren’t really in danger, we just perceive it because of the feelings we have around birth itself. Our fight or flight response will also send that lovely oxygenated blood to the arms and legs to fight the danger, except there is no danger! All it does there is send that much needed blood AWAY from the uterus which is in need of it because it’s doing a pretty tough job!

Now these things lead to our birth process becoming SLOW, our uterus becoming tired and inefficient. This results in surges feeling painful, the birth process appearing to not make progress and then us becoming super tired and interventions being suggested or the common label of ‘failure to progress’. We can then end up having a bloody awful time instead of our bodies just cracking on and getting this baby out. After all, our birth is a bodily function and our bodies know what to do. With fight or flight getting in the way we instead feel like birth is just a shit thing to do and we may then go on to tell our friends that same thing, perpetuating the cycle.

Can you see how this all means that by having a subconscious filled with crap that we’ve seen on the TV and horror stories people have told us over the years, we can then take all of that into our birth space and end up with those physical effects making birth turn out to be just what we expected it to be?

What we want instead is for you to get to a place where you feel amazing about your body’s ability to birth, excited about the idea of going into labour and getting to meet your baby and feeling informed about all the great stuff you can do to facilitate a positive experience (we’ll help you on that front tomorrow!). This will change the way that your brain responds to the birth process once it happens and let all the incredible hormones of birth take over and help you to smash it!

We know after a life time of all the scary stuff it can feel like having a positive birth is a pipe dream but we know for sure that it absolutely is not!

Whilst we can’t always predict exactly how birth will go, we can prepare ourselves to get into a headspace where we’re feeling positive, inviting our birth process to crack on and getting ourselves and our birth partner ready to navigate any changes should there be any.

If you want to banish your fear of birth and start looking forward to it, check out our affordable digital pack!