How Perception Affects Women Giving Birth Naturally

Understanding the Mind-Body Connection | How Perception Affects Childbirth 
 Changing Perceptions of Natural Childbirth

For women giving birth, it's critical to note that natural childbirth is an area where the mind-body connection is well established.   We now know that the way we think directly influences the way we feel.  For example, people often speak of athletes "choking" or subconsciously sabotaging their performance in a make-or-break situation.

Their internal dialogue is one of self-doubt and anxiety over whether or not they will make that shot or complete that play.  In this moment, they ensure that the shot will be difficult. In effect, their mental state resulted in the action they feared, missing that key shot.

We see this type of mind-body connection in everyday situations as well. 

For some, it's seeing a spider or a mouse.  What happens? The palms get sweaty, the heart starts pounding, a feeling of breathlessness begins and the hands tingle.  This is the automatic bodily response to the anxiety experienced when faced with a potential stressor. 

But does the stressor even have to be present?  For some, the answer is no.  The mere thought of a spider or mouse may send them into a state of panic. 

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How Perception Affects Childbirth

When a person feels threatened, whether real or imagined, adrenaline is released. The hormone adrenaline is a potent substance which alerts the limbic system in the brain, or the "fight-or-flight" response.  Adrenaline belongs to the catecholamine family of hormones which are responsible for stimulating the body to a state of high alert.

When this reaction is triggered, blood is diverted from the main organs to the limbs, heart rate increases, body temperature rises, digestion slows, and breathing becomes rapid and shallow, all of which are detrimental to laboring women.

For women giving birth, these physical manifestations of stress and anxiety will divert blood from the uterus, cause the body to tense, and increase the breathing rate.  In short, this reaction is a natural birth nightmare.  When this reaction occurs, women will most definitely experience pain.

Changing Your Perceptions about Natural Childbirth

The most-asked question asked by newly pregnant women is "How bad is labor really?".  The phobias of natural childbirth are so firmly ingrained that many women giving birth  have come to accept that pain is an unavoidable consequence of giving birth and that drugs are the only solution to prevent it.

The good news is that by changing birth perceptions, women giving birth naturally can eliminate the physical reactions that interfere with the birthing process.  There are several areas in which many women harbor phobias or fears about labour and birthing.

Change the Internal Dialogue about Contractions

Women giving birth can benefit from changing their birthing vocabulary.   Since we as a society have come to associate the word "contraction" with "pain", new associations can be formed by using different terminology.

Ina May Gaskin in her book, Spiritual Midwifery, uses the term "rushes" to describe contractions.  In Hypnobirthing, they are termed "surges".  Both names are much more positive in nature and help convey the true purpose of a contraction, an opening or wave that brings the baby into waiting arms.

Using a visualization can also help.  Some women giving birth naturally picture a contraction as a wave in the ocean:  it laps gently up the body as it peaks and then slowly recedes.  Others use the visualization of a balloon: as the contraction builds, the balloon expands, and once the contraction starts to ebb, the balloon floats away.

A labor contraction is not meant to be a painful rite of childbirth.  Instead, they are the force that propels the baby forth.  With each contraction, you are one step closer to holding that precious new babe.  By recognizing them as such, you are welcoming them as a friend, not a foe.

This new perception prevents the automatic stress response from occurring, which means that contractions will then be more effective since the body is working with them, not against.

As a result, for women giving birth naturally, labor is more likely to progress quickly and efficiently, reducing the overall number of "surges" before holding that baby.

Changing the Perception of Pain

A critical factor to remember is why a person feels pain.  Pain is felt to signal that something is wrong. 

So, if a natural childbirth with no complications is occurring, and pain is felt, we must ask ourselves, "What is that pain signaling?

If the body is tense and anxious, the pain can be a result of the body working against each contraction.  Remember that a stress response diverts blood from the uterus, which impedes its ability to function optimally.

Studies have shown that women's expectations of pain during childbirth match their actual birth experience.  In other words, what you expect is what you get - for better or for worse.

If women giving birth expect a horribly painful experience they won't be able to handle, rest assured, they will have it.  However, if instead they believe that the body was perfectly designed for birthing and any existing phobias have been eliminated, the path to a comfortable natural birth has been laid.

Page Last Modified by Catherine Beier, MS, CBE

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