Well This Sucks: Women Who Fear Childbirth Have Longer Labor

fear of childbirthWe’ve written before about tocophobia – an extreme fear of childbirth that affects many women out there. We’re not talking about jitters or anxiety here but rather a full-fledged phobia that can you leave you paralyzed with fear. Our own Koa Beck wrote a wonderfully candid piece last year called “I’m Young, Childless And Scared To Death Of Labor” about her own fears. (“Just hearing about someone’s labor is enough to make me feel like I’m 12 years old again, covering my eyes from a scary part in a film,” she explains.)

The results of a new study on childbirth certainly won’t help matters. Researchers in Norway have discovered that labor takes 47 minutes longer for women who fear childbirth. That might not sound like a lot but let’s face it: when you have an extreme fear of childbirth to begin with, hearing that your fear will actually prolong the process isn’t exactly great news. Previous studies have shown that longer labor increases the need for interventions like forceps or c-sections, which just adds fuel to the fire.

In this particular study, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, researchers found that women with a fear of childbirth were more likely to need forceps (17 percent vs. 10.6 percent) or an emergency c-section (10.9 percent vs. 6.8 percent). The good news, however, is that many of the 2200 women involved in the study who feared labor went on to have successful vaginal deliveries.

Researchers say that anxiety and fear may increase blood concentrations of hormones called catecholamines, which may prevent the uterus from contracting (or at least slow down the process). It’s a catch 22 for those who suffer from tocophobia, that’s for sure. Because telling a fearful woman to chill out during labor is akin to telling someone who can’t sleep to stop thinking so much (gee, thanks for the advice!). That’s not to say there aren’t ways to alleviate anxiety – many moms swear by hypnobirthing, for example, or therapy/counseling – but this latest research is likely to stress out fearful women even more.

(Photo: Gelpi/Shutterstock)

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    • Lindsay

      I recommend taking the Bradley Method classes and hiring a doula, even if you aren’t planning a natural childbirth. Knowing all about what is happening and why it’s happening can help alleviate a lot of the fears, and even if you’re getting an epidural or water birth, most doctors/midwives don’t allow it until you’re X centimeters, so you still need some way to cope with the labor pains, which you can learn in the classes and a doula can coach you on. Studies have shown that having a doula leads to faster labors, probably because of the calming effects of having someone there with you throughout your labor who can keep you calm and remind you to breathe, and just do stuff for you (get you some juice, put on music, massage your back). Bradley method also encourages partners to be present and assist the birth, which provides further reassurance and assistance.

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