10 Common Birthing Fears

Filed under: Breast-Feeding, Nutrition, Pregnancy Health, Expert Advice: Pregnancy

birthing fears

Keep your eye on the prize. Credit: Corbis

Giving birth is a monumental event in a woman's life –- a cause for joy, and, in many cases, a cause for fear. It's normal to be scared in the hours before delivery, but what are the most common fears and how valid are they?

Here's a look at 10 things women worry about before they go into labor:

1. I'm afraid giving birth will be too painful. Every woman about to give birth for the first time worries about this because it's hard to imagine the whole process not being painful. Of course, there are plenty of medications to relieve labor pain, from a pudendal block to an epidural. Taking childbirth classes, such as Lamaze, might help soothe your worries and prepare you for labor.

2. I'm afraid I will be in labor for 60 hours. Everyone has heard the horror stories about someone being in labor for days, but in reality, the average labor lasts 18 hours, and doctors rarely let the process go past 20 hours. If your labor stalls, there are things your doctor can do to augment the process, such as giving you Pitocin to make your uterus contract, or allowing you to continue your labor in a hot tub.

3. I'm afraid of becoming paralyzed by an epidural injection gone wrong. You've gotten past the fear of painful labor by arranging for an epidural, but now you're terrified that a terrible complication will occur. Relax. The risk of permanent paralysis, as well as death or a heart attack, from an epidural falls in a range of one in 20,000 to one in 1,000,000. Anesthetists are highly-trained doctors who perform epidurals every day.

4. I'm afraid of losing control. Whether it's a fear of pooping on the delivery table or a fear of cursing uncontrollably, the possibility of not having total control over bodily functions can be very scary -- if not completely horrifying. However, labor and delivery nurses, obstetricians and midwives have seen and heard it all, so you don't have to worry about shocking them. If you are really concerned about losing bowel control, you can always opt for an enema in the early hours of labor.

5. I'm afraid I will have to have a C-section. You've decided you are going to go the natural childbirth route. You've even taken hypnobirthing classes to prepare yourself. Unfortunately, when the time comes, a complication such as the baby's heart rate becoming irregular or your baby being too large to pass through can happen, and your doctor may tell you he or she is going to have to perform a cesarean section. While this may come as a disappointment, think of it as a means to an end -- a glorious end of having a healthy baby. If you fear the cesarean possibility, it may help for you to read up on what happens during the procedure so that you will know what to expect if it does happen.

6. I'm afraid of tearing. This is a very common concern among mothers-to-be, and rightly so, because tears in the perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) are common, especially in first-time births. Most perineal tears are superficial, and only 4 percent of women suffer serious tears. Fortunately, there are things you can do at home before having birth that can help prevent tearing, such as doing Kegel exercises to make the perineal muscles stronger, and massaging your perineum to increase blood flow and the elasticity of the muscles.

7. I'm afraid I will have to have an episiotomy. Twenty years ago, an episiotomy was a routine procedure performed before labor to prevent the aforementioned tearing. However, studies have shown episiotomies really aren't necessary, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended against the procedure.

8. I'm afraid I will have the baby in the car on the way to the hospital. This seems to be one incident that really only happens in the movies and on television, but it is possible. In only less than one percent of births does a pregnant woman suddenly feel the urge to push without labor symptoms or contractions. However, it can happen, especially if you have had a previous quick labor. If you do find yourself in this situation, the American College of Nurse-Midwives has a document, A Guide to Emergency Preparedness for Childbirth that gives step-by-step instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.

9. I'm afraid the umbilical cord will strangle my baby. While this fear conjures up a frightening image, could it really happen? The cord can end up around your baby's neck during delivery, but it is important to remember that he or she is not breathing through his or her mouth yet. You are still breathing for your baby. Even if the cord gets stretched, there are mechanisms in place that allow them to continue working properly. If your baby is born with his or her cord around the neck, all the doctor needs to do is untangle it after birth before clamping it.

10. I'm afraid I will die. This fear goes through the mind of every mom-to-be because, although the risk is low (13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in the U.S. in 2006), it's still a remote possibility, especially if you have a cesarean section. However, taking childbirth classes, as well as taking a tour of the labor and delivery department of your hospital, may ease your mind. Talking to your obstetrician about this worry will also help your state of mind.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.