A new study has confirmed an interesting link between womens’ feelings about – and fears around – childbirth, and the results those feelings have on their experiences in labor; not surprisingly, women who fear childbirth not only labor for longer (47 minutes longer, on average), but are also more likely to have an epidural, go in for elective C-sections, and – for real – experience more labor pain. In addition, these moms are more likely to have “less-than-positive” feelings surrounding pregnancy, as well as the post-partum period. All in all, fear around childbirth sets mommies up for less positive experiences from bump to baby, and quite a bit beyond. Bummer.
The study also showed that women with a “take it as it comes” attitude about childbirth are also more likely to opt for C-sections, while women who see birth as a natural, non-threatening process – these women don’t fear childbirth, and expect to deliver naturally vaginally, without a problem -- experience less pain, and undergo fewer interventions, during delivery. They also deliver their babies more quickly than their fearful preggo peers do.
The results of this study are being hailed as shedding important light on the connection between psychology and obstetrics – and its researchers were quick to point out that, while fearful moms ended up, on average, laboring for longer, many of them did end up delivering vaginally; doctors need not jump to C-sections by default for this group. In fact, I hope they’ll instead examine and address the sources of pregnant women’s fears. As ScienceDaily.com’s coverage of the study notes, “Various factors have been associated with increased prevalence of fear of childbirth, including young maternal age, being a first-time mother, pre-existing psychological problems, lack of social support and a history of abuse or adverse obstetric events.” I have no doubt these factors do indeed create for more fearful attitudes around childbirth, but so does the medical system’s approach to childbirth itself.
Proponents of midwife-assisted, natural and home-births have long criticized the current state of hospital birth practices for disempowering women, for removing them—both physically and psychologically – from their body’s natural processes. And pregnant women in all circles are increasingly rejecting this highly medical approach to their condition, which essentially treats it as an illness, and instead opting for midwife-assisted, natural and home births. In nations where these latter, ‘alternative’ approaches to childbirth are in fact the mainstream, childbirth is also statistically far safer for mamas and babies alike than it is in America. The new insights into the connections between attitudes toward childbirth and their results may offer more evidence as to why.
I definitely felt that the nine months of modern medicine leading up to labor created an atmosphere of fear around childbirth; from genetic testing to simply scheduling the next ultrasound appointment, it seemed that every step along the way involved looking for (in the name of ruling out) threats to the health of my baby, or me. I felt like I’d wait anxiously for each ultrasound, for the doctor to tell me everything was a-okay, and then relax for five minutes before they told me what was coming up next... Then I’d worry about the negative possibilities rather than trust my growing belly and healthy body that, ultimately, turned out a beautiful baby boy. Yes, a lot of this had to do with being a first-time mom, but it’d do doctors well to recognize the implications of all of their testing on their patients perceptions.
Some hospitals are beginning to take helpful cues from natural-birth advocates on what makes for positive birth experiences at the time of delivery; hopefully, this recent study will encourage practitioners to do the same in the months leading up to labor. Empowering women by reminding and reassuring them that that pregnancy is not an illness, and that childbirth is a natural process, will make for faster, safer deliveries, in any setting.
Were you afraid of childbirth? Did your doctor’s approach to your delivery encourage or discourage your fears? For those of you who’ve delivered more than one baby, was the second easier than the first? Do you think your attitude contributed to this? What do you think of this study?
PS. Other fun natural parenting stuff this week:pro-breastfeeding tattoos (check out my friend Kristen Downer's awesome pregnant-mama tattoo too -- she's a certified doula and soon-to-be midwife!), and this rockin' Natural Mom Rosie the Riveter!