How do hormones and fear affect your labor experience?

There’s a reason why we as doulas “instill strength and reduce fear” for our clients, because fear really does affect a person’s (and their partner’s) experience during childbirth. The effect of this fear is physical and psychological.

The Western birth experience is generally highly medicalized and not necessarily treated as a normal physiological function of the body. Obstetricians are surgeons and most of them are trained to “manage a birth” to avoid complications. Of course, there are risks, but most people who are expecting a baby have many preconceived notions about the process already, and with good reason.

The media and birth: Most people in the United States have no idea what a normal birth looks like. Tv shows and movies all show hysterical people in labor, screaming at their partners and in extreme pain. Add to that stories from well-meaning friends and family who have their own birth stories to tell (and those people usually choose the most horrific events of their births to share), and what do you get? Someone who’s terrified of birth.

Some common fears include:

The unknown: What really happens in the birth room? Vulnerability increases this fear, as does the inability to be physically modest around strangers and in a strange environment.

Tearing: Unfortunately, many first-time birthers will experience a tear of some kind.

Baby is too big: Many providers suggest induction if they suspect a big baby, but predictions based on an ultrasound or physical exam will be right half the time and wrong half the time, and actual weight can be 15% more or less than the ultrasound predicted.

C-section: the rate of c-section in the United States data from 2019 (released May 20, 2020) show that 31.7% of all births were by cesarean.

Black maternal health: Black mothers of all ages are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white peers.

All of these factor into the Fear, Tension, Pain Cycle: Fear causes you to become tense, and that tension increases pain. The increased pain, in turn, increases fear and the cycle repeats.

When a person is calm and in a safe place, the oxytocin ("the love hormone") causes contractions and reduces stress. If a person is scared, in pain or tense, adrenaline (the "fight or flight hormone") kicks in, making labor longer and more painful. It actually inhibits oxytocin!

How does your doula help?

  • By educating our clients and their partners prenatally about what to expect (and erasing the unknown factor).

  • By creating a safe and comfortable environment (private, calm, safe, quiet, and undisturbed) to encourage the production of oxytocin.

  • By letting you know that you have a choice in what happens in the birthing room (Many people think that they have to do what their provider tells them to do).

  • By treating you as a person (not just a “patient” or a “number") and validating your feelings.

  • By being a caring, calming presence throughout your experience: Studies show that those with doula support have shorter labors and more positive feelings about their birth experiences.

Learn more about how doula support works and how we work with your partner here.

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