Surviving Delivery Day: Coping with Childbirth Anxiety

For many women, pregnancy involves some level of anxiety. Women may feel worried about the pregnancy, becoming a mother, the baby’s health, or how this new role will affect other areas of life (such as work, marriage, and finances). A significant number of soon-to-be moms also experience anxiety about the birth itself. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce childbirth anxiety to help you have a more calm delivery process. 

What is childbirth anxiety?

Childbirth anxiety is a type of anxiety that specifically involves excessive fear or worry about delivering a baby. The delivery process for a first-time mother involves a lot of unknowns, which can lead to fear about what “could” possibly happen or go wrong. Some women also have a hard time with the fact that they cannot control aspects of the delivery process. Delivering a baby requires trusting your delivery team (which may include an OBGYN, midwife, and doula) and your own body. This combination of unknown possibilities and lack of control can lead to anxiety, which may increase as the due date draws closer. 

Common questions and fears reported by expecting mothers include:

  • Will I get to the hospital on-time?
  • Will I be able to handle the pain?
  • What if there isn’t enough time to have an epidural?
  • Will the epidural hurt?
  • Will I be able to stick to my birth plan?
  • What if I have to be induced or need a C-section?
  • Will me and my baby survive the delivery?
  • How long will I have to stay at the hospital?

Certain factors may increase the risk of developing childbirth anxiety including:

  • Personal history of depression or anxiety. 
  • Family history of anxiety.
  • Previous deliveries that were traumatic or stressful.

Symptoms of childbirth anxiety

Childbirth anxiety can range in severity from mild to severe. Severe childbirth anxiety can be distressing and affect a woman’s ability to experience pleasure during pregnancy. Symptoms of childbirth anxiety include:

  • Excessive worry and fear about giving birth.
  • Difficulty relaxing or finding pleasure during pregnancy.
  • Feeling tense or on-edge often. 
  • Muscle tension or aches. 
  • Avoiding thoughts and reminders of giving birth.
  • Difficulty concentrating. 
  • Sleeping problems. 
  • Panic attacks, which can include heart palpitations, shallow breathing, shaking, numbness, hot flashes, sweating, and dizziness.

Is anxiety about giving birth normal?

Childbirth involves a lot of unknowns. You’re not sure when or how you will go into labor, how long it will last, how your labor will progress, etc. Mild to moderate childbirth anxiety is normal. While nearly all women experience some anxiety about giving birth, somewhere between 5 and 20% of pregnant women have significant fear of delivery. Read on to learn more about how to deal with childbirth anxiety.

Childbirth anxiety
Childbirth anxiety can affect a woman’s mood and experience of pleasure during pregnancy.

How can I cope with my anxiety about childbirth?

Delivery worry can be overwhelming and have a negative impact on your mood during pregnancy. Consider the following tips if you find yourself anxious:

  • Avoid negative birth stories. Whether you ask or not, family, friends, and even strangers may want to share their experiences giving birth. Hearing stories of painful or complicated deliveries will only increase your anxiety, so it’s best to avoid them if possible. If a loved one or stranger begins sharing a scary birth story, come up with a kind but firm statement, such as “I appreciate you sharing, but I’m already pretty nervous about giving birth, so I think it’s better that we not talk about this.”

  • Prep for childbirth. Knowledge is power, so educating yourself on the birthing process can ease your anxiety about the unknown and help you feel more in control. Consider taking an online or face-to-face childbirth class. There are different types of prep classes available, such as Lamaze and HypnoBirthing, so it can help to do some research beforehand to see which one seems like the best fit.

  • Talk to your birth team. Sharing your fears with your doctor, midwife, and/or doula gives them an opportunity to help you calm your anxiety. Expecting mothers may imagine all different “what-if” scenarios that could arise. Opening up to your team can give them a chance to challenge your “what-ifs” and plan ahead for plausible scenarios.

  • Keep your eye on the prize. Remember why you’re going through this whole process in the first place: to hold your beautiful baby in your arms. When you feel anxious, take a deep breathe and imagine the end result. 

How can mindfulness help me while giving birth?

Mindfulness, or the practice of present moment awareness, can help you both cope with birth anxiety and manage pain during delivery. The key to benefiting from mindfulness is practicing it on a regular basis.

Practicing mindfulness or meditation decreases the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. It also produces endorphins, which can help relieve pain. The effects of mindfulness improve over time, so practicing consistently can help you deal with stress and anxiety during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum.

If you’re new to meditation you can start by finding a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Gently close your eyes and begin noticing your breathe. You can start to count the length of your inhales and exhales and gently adjust them to four to six seconds each. As you do this practice, you will notice thoughts come and go. This is completely normal. Just acknowledge that you’re having a thought and choose to let it go, like a cloud passing through the sky. Continue this process for as long as you’re comfortable, ideally at least five minutes. Doing this practice every day, whether you’re stressed or not, can help you feel more calm overall.

FAQ: Should I choose a C-section rather than vaginal delivery if I’m anxious?

The number of cesarean (C-sections) in the United States has increased significantly over the past several years. Doctors and researchers believe that this increase may in part be related to childbirth anxiety. Women who are anxious about giving birth are more likely to request a C-section from their doctors because they believe it will be less painful. While this may be partly true in some cases, C-sections carry other risks that should be carefully considered.

If you’re contemplating a C-section because you’re fearful of a vaginal delivery, talk to your delivery team about the pros and cons. Before jumping to any big decisions, utilize the tools discussed in this article to try to reduce your anxiety. Remember that some anxiety about childbirth is normal and you are unlikely to feel 100% comfortable with the idea of giving birth. You and your delivery team will ultimately make a decision about what is best for you based on you and your baby’s health. 

Resources:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. (2018). Labor and birth.

Sources:

Dhillon, A., Sparkes, E., & Duarte, R. V. (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions during pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 8(6), 1421-1437.

Madhavanprabhakaran, G. K., D’Souza, M. S., & Nairy, K. S. (2015). Prevalence of pregnancy anxiety and associated factors. International Journal of Africa Nursing Sciences, 3, 1-7.

Storksen, H. T., Eberhard‐Gran, M., Garthus-Niegel, S, & Eskild, A. (2012). Fear of childbirth: The relation to anxiety and depression. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 91(2), 237-242.

Wijma, K., & Wijma, B. (2017). A woman afraid to deliver: How to manage childbirth anxiety. In Bio-Psycho-Social Obstetrics and Gynecology (pp. 3-31). Springer International Publishing: Switzerland.

Childbirth anxiety

Leave a Comment




%d bloggers like this: