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Childbirth Cubby

Eliminate Fears About Childbirth
by Jeremy Dyen and Madhavi Gupta, M.D.

Fear about childbirth is real. It is all too common for women to have somewhat irrational fears about birth. But it's no wonder, considering the perpetuation of the myth that childbirth will be the most painful experience of your life. This myth is perpetuated by all sorts of media (television, movies, books and news publications). It's also passed on through negative birth stories, from family, friends and acquaintances.

What's even more upsetting is that many doctors and childbirth educators perpetuate this fear of birth as well, because they blindly accept the mainstream perception of birth. They pass this perception onto expectant mothers and fathers in subtle, and sometimes explicit ways. This kind of misinformation is perhaps the most undermining to a woman's confidence, comfort, health and safety when it comes to childbirth, because it is coming from "experts" and authority figures.

My wife, Madhavi, was seriously wrapped up in the idea that birth would be the single-most painful experience of her life. Her friends and sister had her convinced, especially because they believed it, and essentially handed all of their personal choices to their caregivers. They gave into unnecessary procedures, including a preventable c-section in one case. When I asked my wife if she considered a natural birth, she said, "No, no, no. Epidural..."

My wife also considered herself high-risk, simply because she was 38 years old. This is just not the case. Most women her age and even older have completely safe births with no interventions or unnecessary procedures. But until Madhavi took things into her own hands--researched and educated herself--she believed she had to do things a certain way, rather than the way she wanted and felt comfortable with.

Mostly though, fear was an over-riding factor for her. She was scared of that "single-most painful experience." It kept her awake some nights. The bottom line is that fear, and the lack of personal empowerment that results from it, is at the root of unnecessary birth pain, difficulties and unnecessary interventions (this could be episiotomies, vacuum, forceps and c-sections). Naturally then, getting rid of those fears is a key to unlocking the potential for a positive birth experience. There are a number of ways to do this, and each method is intertwined with the others. I tell you from our experience, as well as countless others, that the suggestions below are key to experiencing your birth as something joyful, amazing and beautiful, rather than painful, difficult and scary. These suggestions really help to reduce, and even eliminate, fears about birth:

  • Eliminate any negative influences: That means, turn off any TV show that is portraying a negative birth experience. Stop surfing on websites or forums focusing on how painful birth will be. If someone is telling you about their harrowing birth story, kindly interrupt them and tell them that while you are sorry they had such a difficult time, it is better you don't hear about it.

  • Educate Yourself: This is at the heart of self-empowerment. Unfortunately, we live in an age and culture that lacks community in regards to pregnancy, childbirth, family and parenting. It used to be more common for children to be a part of the birth experience. At the least, it wasn't something foreign to them, or something to have irrational fears about. Since that positive thread that runs through the fabric of our society is thin, it is important to seek out childbirth education through live or home classes, through positive sources online, and by asking important questions of your OB or midwife. Education will give you understanding and confidence. It will allow you to make informed decisions about your birth plan, where you birth, what risks may present themselves to you, what interventions you are open or closed to and even what you want post-partum.

  • Trust Yourself: This suggestion is a sort of letting-go of the above point. While it is important to educate yourself, it is so important to trust your intuitive ability to birth. All women have this. Biologically, women have natural, internal knowledge about birth. This isn't about just letting whatever happens happen haphazardly. This is about listening to your body and trusting it will do what it needs to do if you can just get your mind (and the fears in your mind) out of the way. Although you should seek this intuitive ability within yourself, educating yourself will help you gain confidence and trust.

  • Relaxation Techniques: These can include physical activities, such as yoga, kegel exercises (stretching of the pelvic muscles) and other stretches, mind-clearing walks and breathing techniques. Relaxation techniques can also include sedentary things like meditation, guided or self hypnosis and guided imagery. The physical activities will help your body prepare for birth by reducing muscle tension (tension causes pain in labor) and giving you more flexibility--a sort of opening up. Mental/spiritual exercises like guided imagery and meditation will help you clear away fears. They will help you recreate your mindset, eliminating negative images of your pregnancy and birth by simply replacing them with positive ones. This allows you to create the birth experience you want.

  • Nutrition: Nutrition is a key not just to your physical health, but your mental state. Eliminating things like caffeine, sodium and lots of sugars is really important. These items affect your ability to deal with stress. They are stress inducers. Make sure you're getting enough protein and healthy fats (monosaturated: avocado and olive oil; polysaturated: omega-3's, like fish oil and fresh organic eggs) that are integral to your baby's growth. Of course, avoid saturated fats. Avoid processed foods as a general rule. Drink a lot of water. You've always heard to drink 8 glasses a day. As you're drinking for two, you should go for more if possible. Avoid alcohol.

  • Ask Questions/Interview Your Potential Birth Care Providers: We highly recommend interviewing with a couple of potential care providers. Many women choose an OB or midwife because they work close to where you live, or because your insurance covers more. These, of course, are realistic reasons. But we recommend basing your decision more on your comfort level and what their philosophy is. You may want to ask what their cesarean rate is, or what their protocol is regarding epidurals, episiotomies, assisted vaginal delivery or continuous vs. intermittent fetal monitoring. You might ask if you will be allowed to eat and drink in labor, or what comfort measures they would recommend during labor. Another important question to ask is how they view "progress" of labor. For example, would they call for pitocin, or an artificial rupture of membranes (AROM) if your labor was progressing less than one centimeter per hour in the first stage of labor? Asking these questions in your initial interviews will reveal much about that care provider's philosophy and practices. We suggest interviewing two to three care providers.

About the Authors:
Jeremy Dyen and Madhavi Gupta, M.D., are joyous parents, and a husband and wife team, dedicated to helping women and birth partners eliminate fears about childbirth. They created a free video series with tips, common mistakes and frequently asked questions about birth, which you can easily access at http://fearfreebirth.com.

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