The secret to coping with labour

scared of giving birth
Are you scared of giving birth?

If you are currently pregnant or even planning to have a baby then the thought of giving birth will have crossed your mind once or twice!  From those cringe worthy sex education videos to One Born Every Minute the message most women get is clear. Birth hurts like hell, that you will be in labour for days, that you are likely to scream the place down and turn the air blue with a few choice words begging for drugs. Is it any wonder then that 8 out of 10 women in a Mother and Baby survey were terrified of giving birth?  So could there be a secret to coping with labour that is not publicly “out there”?

Well, if you were to switch over to the Discovery channel and were to watch a programme of any other mammal giving birth, she would be quiet, calm, mobile and seem to just get on with it.  We know that mammals register and feel pain, yet somehow during labour they don’t seem to show the same characteristics as women on OBEM.

So do you think that maybe there is a chance that women could also experience labour and birth being calm, more in control and better able to deal with the pain? What is this secret to coping with labour and how you can turn from a potential screaming banshee to a calm, serene birthing goddess?

Well, it all comes down to hormones and how you are feeling in the lead up to and during the labour.  If you are scared your body will be in a “fight or flight” mode and birth becomes tough; if you are calm, relax and breathe slowly, your body can just get on with it. To put it into context, imagine you are labouring alone out in the wild. Suppose you saw or even thought you saw a dangerous animal lurking in the shadows. What do you think would happen? Would you have a conscious choice on what happens next? Simply believing there is a wild animal in your birth space would instantly stimulate the “fight or flight” response. Your muscles would tighten, blood would flow to your limbs and contractions would slow down or stop and would not resume until you felt safe.

This fear, whether real or imagined, activates the nervous system to produce adrenaline (danger hormone), which gives you a burst of power to fight or to run away. Your cervix tightens (to prevent giving birth where it is not safe) and the increased level of adrenaline neutralises the oxytocin (the hormone responsible for your contractions) so that your body slows down or even stops labour. All this “fight or flight” preparation uses a great deal of energy and as our bodies were only designed to be in this state for a few minutes, you can imagine that staying in this state for prolonged periods of time will lead to prolonged labour, horribly painful contractions which will be extremely exhausting for both mum and baby.

This is essentially about fear, any fear – fear of pain, fear of dying, fear of tearing. Your nervous system does not know the difference between fear from real danger or imagined fear, from what you may have seen on the tele or told by friends and family and so your body will respond in the same way to both. If you go into labour feeling and being frightened, your system will respond accordingly.

So what is the secret to coping with labour and birth?

Ultimately it is about learning to let go of fear and to work with your body to stay as relaxed and calm as possible. By being able to relax during labour, your body responds in a very different way to the fear scenario described above. When you are relaxed, your breathing is even, ensuring a high level of oxygen is entering both you and your baby’s body, helping your baby remain calm and stable. Increased oxygen stimulates the production of oxytocin (hormone responsible for contractions) and the natural pain-killer, endorphins. As the uterus has no resistance or tension from surrounding muscles, the contractions are more effective and more manageable. Other natural hormones also increase in including relaxin which allows the tissue of the birth canal to relax, soften and expand.

One of the easiest and most relaxing ways to help you shift from being anxious to being calmer, is to listen to a Natal Hypnotherapy album in the weeks leading up to the birth. Over 2000 midwives now recommend award-winning Natal Hypnotherapy  as they have seen how beneficial it can be for both mum and baby. Listening to one of the tracks is a great excuse to go and lie down for half an hour knowing you are doing something really practical and useful to prepare for the birth.

My voice (british accent by the way) guides you into a deeply relaxed state using breathing techniques, guided imagery and visualisation. You can get a free 15 minute track by clicking here. Once you are deeply relaxed, your conscious mind becomes quiet and you become open and receptive to positive suggestions about the birth, learning coping strategies and pain management techniques, all geared towards helping you stay calm and able to deal effectively with contractions.

Hypnobirthing track
Natal Hypnotherapy hypnobirthing

As any midwife will tell you, the secret to coping with labour is to relax and breathe. By listening to a hypnobirthing track over and over again before labour you become brilliant at relaxing and effective breathing and are mentally familiar with the processes of giving birth, which naturally increases your confidence and reduces any fear associated with birth. The hypnotherapy techniques put you in control, so that you have all the coping strategies you need for the big day, no matter who else is there to support you.

You can learn more about how to help yourself during pregnancy and birth with my top tips emails

You can also read Jennifer’s birth story on how she used this secret to coping with labour.

If you’re not sure what this hypnobirthing stuff is like then you can get this FREE pregnancy relaxation hypnobirthing track

Click to download your FREE track

One Born Every Minute – a dad’s journey from a traumatic birth to an inspirational birth

This blog looks at how Paul’s journey took him from coping with a traumatic birth to being an integral part of an inspirational birth.

Channel 4 OBEM
Paul and Nadine talking about their positive expereince of using Natal hypnotherapy

Having met Nadine a few times I knew how much a positive birth experience had meant to her. Especially after the difficulties she had with her first labour. However, as often happens, a father’s perspective of the birth can be somewhat overlooked.

I was therefore so pleased when Paul sent me this video. He gives his perspective of their first difficult birth experience during which he felt like during which they both felt very unprepared and somewhat overwhelmed.  Paul especially felt like a bystander and felt unable to support Nadine in effectively.

When Nadine became pregnant again, they felt so strongly that they wanted to find a different way. Initially, like many partners, Paul was somewhat skeptical about hypnotherapy and had a misguided view of what it meant. However, he goes on to explain so clearly how his view changed once he understood what Natal Hypnotherapy was all about and how much it helped him have a proactive and important role and ultimately an inspirational birth experience.

I won’t give too much away but words like motivational, inspirational, positive, uplifting were words he used to describe the second birth experience.

You can watch his interview here

You can watch Paul and Nadine’s inspirational birth experience on Channel 4’s “One Born Every Minute” at 9pm on August 12th

To learn more about what Paul and Nadine did to prepare Click to download your 5 steps poster

I would love to hear from other partners who felt the same or from mums who saw a similar change in their birth partners.

The impact of fear on a pregnant woman

If you were to ask the average pregnant women what emotions she feels when thinking about giving birth, a large percentage are likely to use words such as scared, worried, anxious or even frightened.  For many pregnant women, their only knowledge or experience around giving birth has been horror stories told by many friends and family and often skewed media portrayal ranging from so called “reality TV” to newspaper coverage of the negative issues surrounding maternity services. It is no wonder that this view of birth has led to increasing feelings of anxiety and fear.

So what exactly happens in a woman’s body if she is feeling frightened or anxious, and what effect will this have on her, her baby and her body’s natural process of birthing?

  1. Fear or anxiety will trigger the production of a hormone called adrenalin, which prepares the body for “fight or flight”.
  1. This leads to blood rushing away from the centre of the woman’s body and being redistributed to her brain and limbs. This takes blood away from the uterus – the set of muscles that really need fresh oxygenated blood – and away from her baby. When the muscles of the uterus are not getting fresh oxygen, they are not as easily able to get rid of the lactic acid which is produced when muscles are working hard; lactic acid needs to be excreted, or else pain increases. The muscles therefore lose some of their elasticity (essential when flexing and releasing), becoming harder and tighter. On top of that, the baby is not getting an abundant supply of fresh oxygen through the mother’s blood, and so, over a long period of time, can begin to get distressed.
  1. The muscles in her body will tense up, ready to fight or run away. In a birthing woman, the most significant muscles to tense up are the circular muscles of the cervix – keeping those tight to make sure the baby CANNOT be born when a mother does not feel safe. However, the long muscles continue to stretch and flex to try and open the circular muscles. So, essentially, the cervix and the uterus are fighting against each other.

Imagine how much harder it will be for the muscles of the uterus to open the cervix if it is all tense and refusing to budge! As all the muscles around the uterus and cervix are also tense, the poor old uterus is having to fight against the strain, rather than being free to contract and release.

You already know how much more painful things are if you tense your muscles, for example if you are having an injection. So, is it any wonder that, with all the tension in her body, the contractions are far more painful and less productive?

  1. The adrenalin neutralises the wonderful birthing hormones, including oxytocin (the one that makes the uterus contract and release),endorphins (natural painkillers), and relaxin (helps with elasticity of the muscles). The hormones, oxytocin and endorphins influence the degree to which we interpret feelings as pain or pleasure. If you reduce these hormones, then the perception of pain will go way up.
  1. All this “fight or flight” preparation uses a great deal of energy. As our bodies were only designed to be in this heightened sense of being prepared to fight or flight for a few minutes at a time, you can imagine that staying in this state for prolonged periods of time will be extremely draining and possibly even harmful to the woman’s baby. In addition, the longer she is in a state of tension, the less efficient her body becomes at flowing with the rhythm of birth.

All of the above are incredibly useful if there is a true reason to fight or run away; however, when there is no actual object of fear that can be dealt with, such as a wild animal, this state can go on indefinitely. This adrenalin-pumped situation was designed to last a few minutes. However, if it is prolonged, a woman will become exhausted, her baby can become distressed and her cervix may stop opening, or even close up.

Imagine now that a woman is labouring beautifully at home, managing the sensations, feeling at ease being in her own surroundings, watching TV or listening to music. Then things are hotting up and it is time to go to the hospital. First of all, making sure she has everything with her, she has turned off the lights, called whom she needs to, locked the front door, gone out into the cold and got into the car. Just these alone use up valuable energy and can create a level of anxiety.  She then has to sit, with a seatbelt on … Ugh … the worst position to be in when having a contraction. Her next thoughts may revolve around the traffic, breaking down, not getting there on time – stress … anxiety … aahhh – she finally gets there.

She then enters the hospital and is suddenly surrounded by strangers, and is being asked lots of questions; there are new and strange smells, noises, and machines; and from now on she is being observed. At a primal level, she is so far removed from the natural instinctive birthing environment that her levels of adrenalin have shot up and her body is attempting to try to stop or slow down labour until she feels safe and calm. As time goes by, her levels of adrenalin and anxiety reach excessive levels. By now her body is so tense that even though her uterus is still contracting, her cervix stops opening.

People around her start using terms like  “oh, not  dilating fast enough”, “failure to progress” and “baby in    distress”, which leads to more anxiety, more adrenalin and usually a roller coaster of intervention to “speed things up”. Once she is given any artificial hormones or chemical drugs, her body stops producing the right amount and balance of natural hormones, including the wonderfully powerful endorphins or natural painkillers, and so her body is struggling even more to flow through birth.

All of these factors have the ability to slow down or even stop labour, and a woman going through this truly does experience excruciating pain, which in turn reinforces the fear of the next contraction, and so the cycle goes on.

As you can see, a woman can become so entrenched in this horrible cycle that her body continues to hold back from birthing her baby, which may partly explain the current drastically high rates of chemical augmentation of labour and increase of Caesarean sections due to “failure to progress” – the most common reason for Caesarean sections today. It may also help to explain the rising rate of inductions, as the fear of birth may even prevent some women going into spontaneous labour.

With all this in mind, it is so important to help pregnant women to identify what it is that worries them and then give them tools and techniques to overcome those fear, to be informed about their options and to learn ways to counteract any adrenaline during labour through relaxation, letting go of fear and keeping their birth environment as “mamalistic” as possible.

One very powerful and beneficial tool in helping fight the fear is the use of hypnosis as it enables you to identify and metaphorically let go of worries and concerns as well as learn the tools to stay calm, relaxed and in control of your responses.

My new “letting go of fear” track helps women at any stage of pregnancy or birth.

Letting go of Fears
Letting go of fears now available to download