How to beat your labour fears
That baby's got to come out some time, but that doesn't mean you're confident about it.
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How are you feeling about giving birth? Excited? Terrified? Apprehensive?

Some moms will love chilling your bones with tales of long labours and getting lost in the depths of mind-numbing agony, while others will insist they got through theirs with no more than a puff of gas and air and a few gentle pushes. It’s all a bit… well, confusing. Scary even. But you don’t need to feel like that.

“Giving birth is a huge unknown, so it’s completely natural to be fearful,” says YP’s specialist editor and midwife Tina Otte. But the key to dealing with that fear is to be informed about what might happen.

If you’re prepared, you’ll feel calmer and more relaxed, which helps oxytocin (the hormone that makes your uterus contract) to flow, making your labour progress smoothly. Feeling chilled (or at least not terrified), really can transform your birth experience.

"I DON'T WANT TO TEAR"

Breaks in the skin – tears – may be easily dealt with, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t something that many pregnant women fear. “I don’t mind the thought of contractions,” says Neliswe Khoza, 29 weeks pregnant. “All they are is pains that come and go. But the idea that my vagina might tear while pushing my baby out really scares me.”

Read: "I'm afraid of tearing during birth"

What you can do now

It sounds weird, but studies show that massaging the area between your vagina and anus (the perineum), from 35 weeks reduces the likelihood of needing stitches. You’ll need a mild, non-allergenic oil such as wheatgerm, and all you do is place both thumbs about three to four centimetres inside your vagina. Press downward and push to the sides at the same time until you feel a slight tingling.

Gently and firmly keep stretching and hold the pressure steady for about two minutes. Doing this stretches and softens the tissue, and knowing you’ve pre-stretched the area also helps you stop panicking when your baby crowns, so your pushing is more controlled.

Many women also recommend stretching the perineum during pregnancy using an Epi-No, which is a kind of small balloon that you insert into your vagina during pregnancy and inflate – ask your midwife for more information.

“Yes, the Epi-No sounds freaky, but it really worked for me,” says Tracey McAdam, 28, mom to George, four weeks. “I delivered vaginally and had zero tearing, not even a scratch,” she says.

What to add to your birth plan

Make a note about wanting to stay active during labour. Tearing is more likely if your baby is back-to-back and comes out looking upwards rather than downwards. Staying upright and mobile during labour can help your baby get into a good position.

Also, consider a water birth. Water softens skin generally, so may reduce the risk of tearing. And listen to your midwife. She will tell you when and how to push, to minimise risk.

Get it in perspective

If you tear, the perineum heals quickly and any stitches will be seen to straight after birth. You’ll be offered painkillers.

"WHAT IF I POO MYSELF?"

Many women admit that they don’t want to deal with the indignity and embarrassment of doing a poo during labour. And this was definitely the case for Lisa Michaels, 32, mom to Sean, 14 weeks. “I accepted that labour would hurt,” she says. “But the thought of doing a poo – involuntarily – really depressed me and stressed me out.”

What you can do now

Throughout pregnancy, and especially in the month before your due date, eat a healthy, high-fibre diet to keep regular and avoid anything that might upset your gut – including castor oil – that old wives’ tales promote to get labour started. These DIY methods of inducing labour are completely unproven and can give you diarrhoea.

Read: What is labour induction?

What to add to your birth plan

Whatever happens, (yes, even a poo), your midwives have seen it all before. If you do have a poo, it will be dealt with discreetly; many women don’t even realise it has happened.

Get it in perspective

Because it’s your baby’s head that forces the poo out, as he comes down, having a bowel movement proves you’re making good progress.

"I'M SCARED THE PAIN WILL BE TOO MUCH FOR ME"

No one can define the word “pain” for another person. “I just don’t know what to expect from birthing pains,” says Bonang Makobe, 30, 26 weeks pregnant. “Some moms tell me that they had calm births with just a couple of puffs of gas and air, whereas others tell me I should demand an epidural as soon as possible. The fear of not knowing how labour is going to feel is really getting to me.”

What you can do now

Read up about labour and go to antenatal classes. Women cope best if they know what’s happening and have faith in their body. Antenatal classes will give you an idea of what to expect during labour, and also cover things like pain-relief options.

What to add to your birth plan

Stay active during labour. You are likely to feel less pain in upright positions, such as bouncing on a birth ball. But don’t be afraid to try out different positions and find the one that works for you.

Also, be open-minded about pain relief. Try simple measures like using a TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) but don’t be afraid of trying other things. Some people say that epidurals increase a woman’s chances of having a c-section, and your labour will be managed differently. But they’re very effective at reducing pain.

Get it in perspective 

“Labour pain is positive pain,” says Tina. It’s intense, but it won’t last forever, and every contraction brings you that bit closer to having your baby.

"WILL MY MAN EVER FEEL THE SAME ABOUT ME AGAIN?"

It’s true that labour isn’t very glamorous, but most men only see their partners in a positive light. “I’m afraid that if my husband sees our baby’s head crown he’ll never want to have sex with me again,” says Rensha Moodley, 32 weeks.

What you can do now

Put him in the picture. If your partner knows what to expect from childbirth, you won’t have to worry about him being shocked. Or just ask him to steer clear of the “business end”, if this will make you more comfortable.

What to add to your birth plan 

Give your man a job to do during labour, such as massaging your back or helping you get into a rhythm with your breathing. This is helpful for both of you as men hate feeling like a spare part who isn’t helping in some way.

Get it in perspective 

Men are generally astounded by the strength they see in their partner, however you give birth. Bringing a baby into the world is a phenomenal achievement, and he’s likely to be filled with an even deeper respect and love for you and your child and it will ultimately unite you – so don’t stress.

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