“Giving birth is a huge unknown, so it’s completely natural to be fearful,” says midwife and antenatal teacher Gilly Keith. “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 chill — or at least not terrified — can really transform your birth experience.”
So we asked the experts what to do now and on the day to transform your birth worries…
Fear #1: “I don’t want to tear”
Breaks in the skin — tears — are 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 Helen Pang, 29 weeks pregnant. “It’s just pains that come and go. But the idea that my vagina might tear while pushing my baby out really scares me.”
What you can do now: It sounds weird, but studies show that massaging the perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) 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 3 to 4cm inside your vagina. Press downward and push to the sides at the same time until you feel a slight tingling. Keep stretching gently and firmly, 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,” Keith 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,” explains obstetrician Dr Michael Heard, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK. “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,” says active birth teacher Juliette Ward. “And listen to your gynae and nurses. They will tell you when and how to push, to minimise the risk.”
Put it in perspective: “The perineum heals quickly and any stitches will be seen to straight after birth,” Keith says. “You’ll be offered painkillers, too.”
“It’s intense, but it won’t last forever, and every contraction brings you that bit closer to having your baby.”
Fear #2: “What if I do a poo?”
Many women admit that they don’t want to deal with the indignity and embarrassment of pooping during labour. And this was definitely the case for Andrea Lim, 32, mum to Benedict, 2. “I accepted that labour would hurt,” she says. “But the idea of doing a poo — involuntarily — really depressed me.”
What you can do now: Throughout pregnancy, and especially in the month before your due date, eat a healthy, high-fibre diet to regulate your bowel movements and avoid fare that might upset your gut including spicy curries, or castor oil (that old wives’ tales claim will kick-start labour). “These DIY methods of inducing labour are completely unproven and can give you diarrhoea,” Keith says.
What to add to your birth plan: Whatever happens, your gynae has 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,” Keith adds.
Put 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.
Fear #3: “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 Emma Low, 30, who’s 26 weeks pregnant. “Some mums tell me 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 makes me nervous.”
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 bodies,” Ward says. 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. “Women usually feel less pain in upright positions, such as bouncing on a birth ball,” Ward explains. Also, be open-minded about pain relief. “Try simple measures like using gas, but don’t be afraid of trying other things,” Dr Heard advises. “Some people say that epidurals increase a woman’s chances of having an emergency C-section, but there’s no evidence to support that. They’re very effective at reducing pain.”
Put it in perspective: “Labour pain is positive pain,” Keith notes. “It’s intense, but it won’t last forever, and every contraction brings you that bit closer to having your baby.”
“Men are generally astounded by the strength they see in their wife, however she gives birth.”
Fear #4: “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 wives 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 ever again,” says Julie Han, 32 weeks pregnant. “He says I’m being silly, but it worries me nonetheless.”
What you can do now: Put him in the picture. “If your husband knows what to expect from childbirth, you won’t have to worry about him being shocked,” Keith explains. “Or just ask him to steer clear of the ‘business end’.”
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’,” Keith says.
Put it in perspective: “Men are generally astounded by the strength they see in their wife, however she gives birth,” says Ward. “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.”