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Are we setting ourselves up for birth trauma?

When you think about childbirth, what springs to mind?

Perhaps it’s not a particularly ‘nice’ thought for you. Something along the lines of excruciating pain, screaming profanities at your partner (“F*CK OFF! YOU DID THIS TO ME!”), and the mortifying possibility of pooping yourself. 

It’s normal to feel nervous about giving birth. But it shouldn’t be a source of genuine terror. This is one of the most natural parts of life! And unfortunately fear doesn’t exactly loosen the vagina ready to slip a baby out. (Actually, it does quite the opposite – inhibiting birth hormones, making labor go for longer, and increasing the likelihood of medical intervention and negative birth experiences.)

Studies indicate a correlation between fear of birth and developing psychological birth trauma. So if you’re feeling particularly panicked about giving birth, it’s important to deal with your fear early on in your pregnancy. A good place to start is by exploring where you’ve developed your ideas about birth.

Birth guru Nadine Richardson (creator of She Births) says, “Every woman I know is carrying around a fear of birth. It’s become a chronic, collective phobia, which has increased rapidly in the last 10 years – largely because of our access to media.”

Could it be that we’re filling our heads with negative ideas about birth and perpetuating our own traumatic birth experiences?

Origins of birth fear

Think about it. In ancient times women would have their first baby without consuming a single episode of One Born Every Minute. Without reading one gory birth story on Instagram. Without really knowing what to expect at all. They just did it.

But now we approach it with a brain full of preconceived ideas, like:

  • This is gonna hurt like hell.
  • I’m going to need an emergency c-section.
  • My partner is going to freak out and/or be useless.
  • etc.

And where do we get these ideas from? Grey’s Anatomy. Call the Midwife. TV, movies, books and various sensationalized depictions of birth in the media. Stories and information flying at us from every direction.

Have a think about where you’ve developed your ideas about birth, and if this could be creating unnecessary fear. What have you been told…

  • by friends and family? A fair few horror stories, we’re betting. This could just be people projecting their own experiences of birth trauma onto you. Nadine’s advice? Don’t listen. Shut. It. Down. No thank you. While sharing our stories is incredibly important for healing from trauma, those stories may not be the most helpful thing if you’re about to give birth and are trying to cultivate a positive mindset.
  • by social media? Nadine notes that social media is plagued with negative stories about birth and parenting. Don’t form your ideas about childbirth based on what some influencer has said. Their story isn’t yours.
  • by ‘the news’? Journalists love a story. But they’re notorious for twisting facts and adding spin. Nadine suggests tuning out, citing a Huffpost article that says three minutes of negative news in the morning leaves you 27 per cent more likely to have a bad day. 

What we should believe about birth

That birth is a literal miracle 

“Lean into the beauty and wonder,” says Nadine. “Think about the billion things that have gone right to grow and keep that baby in your body.” Yes, it’s hard but it’s also so incredible.

That you can do this

In a recent IGTV, Nadine made the comment that fear hits a lot of women once they stop working and start seriously thinking about their impending birth. That’s when a lot of us admit, “I’m not ready for this and I’m sh*t-scared!” 

The more we tell ourselves we can’t do it, the more that fear builds up. But shifting your mindset can help minimize trauma in birth. You can do this by:

  • Using birth affirmations to actively rewire your neural pathways.
  • Working with your partner to untangle any untrue beliefs about birth you may have. 
  • Listening to positive birth stories. (Note: not stories about ‘perfect’ births, but ones where the parents were ready for anything and had a beautiful experience regardless of what happened.)

While we can’t go into birth knowing for certain how it will happen, we can train our minds to expect the best while being open to anything

Takeaway tips for preventing birth trauma

1 in 3 women in Australia experience birth trauma. It can happen to anyone, and there are many variables and contributing factors that can impact the way you feel about your birth experience. You may not be able to fully prevent birth trauma from happening – even if you shut yourself off from all news and media. But Nadine suggests a few steps women can take to help minimize it:

  • Educate yourself – Invest in a good birth class and learn about the role of mindset, how birth works, and how to craft a beautiful birth whatever happens.
  • Get support during birth – A birth doula or your partner should be your advocate, to ensure your wishes are upheld and that you’re spoken to with respect and care. Creating a birth plan and discussing your wishes in advance is important. Try role-playing ahead of time, if you think it might help you figure out how to express what you want to happen, instead of finding yourself lost for words in the emotion of the labor suite.
  • Find your tribe – Connect with a parent’s group in the postpartum period so you can share your experience with others.

Remember: Your experience matters, and the way you feel about your birth matters. If you realize birth has experienced you negatively – whether recently, or in the past – consider seeking support.

Share this article with a mom-to-be who needs to read it!


Expert contributor: Nadine Richardson

Nadine is the creator of She Births® – the World’s only scientifically verified antenatal course. She has shared the unique methodology, where science + soul come together, with over 6000 families. Nadine is a mother and has been a childbirth educator, labor assistant (doula), and prenatal yoga teacher for over 20 years. She lectures and runs workshops for midwives, doctors, and health professionals. Get your Free She Births® Pregnancy Guide at shebirths.com

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