Fear and anxiety during pregnancy are completely natural. You are mentally and physically preparing your body to deliver a baby, after all! Over 20% of women experience some degree of childbirth-related anxiety, so you aren’t alone. But how do you stay composed through the mood swings, body aches, and growing delivery-related concerns as you approach the end of your pregnancy?
We’ve compiled this guide to navigating pregnancy anxiety and making childbirth easier. So, sit back, take a deep breath, and continue reading for tips, methods, and exercises for a smoother overall pregnancy experience. Before you know it, the tough part will be over, and you’ll be cradling your adorable new family member in your arms!
5 Common Fears About Pregnancy
Whether you’re giving birth naturally, getting an epidural, or having a cesarean section, it’s 100% normal and plausible to have those pregnancy jitters as the big day gets closer. But not to worry — below are some common concerns about labor and childbirth, and why you don’t have to feel intimidated.
1. Not Getting to the Hospital in Time
Maybe you’re worried you won’t make it to the hospital in time for your baby’s delivery — let’s face it, the last thing you want to do is give birth in the car. The good news is that first-time labor lasts an average of 12 to 24 hours and 8 to 10 hours for subsequent births.
So, once your water breaks and those contractions start setting in, you should have more than enough time to get to the hospital before your youngster arrives.
2. Premature Birth
Your baby arriving prematurely is a valid concern — especially if you have risk factors like carrying multiple babies, being overweight or underweight, or a chronic condition like diabetes or high blood pressure. However, over half of all recorded births occur at full term, between 39 and 41 weeks, so preterm birth is a relatively rare occurrence.
There are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of early delivery, such as:
- Regulating your blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Avoiding smoking, drugs, and alcohol.
- Scheduling regular prenatal checkups.
- Taking daily folic acid vitamin supplements.
3. Pain During Labor and Childbirth
Arguably the biggest fear for most pregnant women is the pain they’ll experience during labor and delivery. The reality is that unmedicated birth is painful — but remember that it’s doable, and your body was designed for it. Once you go into labor, your body goes into overdrive producing endorphins in response to your discomfort and stress. Endorphin levels gradually increase during natural labor.
Should the pain become unbearable, you can opt for an epidural if you aren’t fully dilated. If you’ve decided from the get-go you’d rather forgo an unmedicated birth, you can request an epidural as soon as possible. Your doctor will likely have to wait until your cervix is at least 4 centimeters dilated before administering the epidural.
4. Getting an Epidural
Perhaps you’re leaning toward an epidural, but the thought of a massive needle going into your spine sends you into fight or flight mode. You may also be wary of the potential side effects and complications associated with these injections.
Fortunately, there’s typically minimal pain that comes with an epidural. At most, you’ll likely feel some pressure upon insertion. Additionally, epidurals are generally safe, and serious complications are incredibly rare. Another bonus is that it goes into your back, so you won’t even see it!
Another common — and justified — pregnancy fear is experiencing complications during labor and childbirth, such as your baby moving into a breech position or insufficient contractions to move them through the birth canal. You might have concerns about needing a cesarean section, or your baby having to go into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after birth.
While these unanticipated circumstances are definitely possible with so many variables at play, remember that both you and your baby will be in the capable hands of skilled medical providers. Chances are, your doctor will discuss the eventuality of a C-section long before you go into labor.
This will be the safest way to deliver the baby, should certain complications arise. Additionally, many of these factors don’t always indicate you or the baby is in danger. Choose your provider wisely and trust that they know what they’re doing — this can put your mind at ease when preparing for your bundle of joy.
What Makes Childbirth Easier?
We’ve covered some of the most common pregnancy concerns, but what are some things you can do to reduce pain, keep calm, and soothe your mind? Here are some tips that may help make your labor and delivery experience easier and even more relaxing.
1. Tour a Maternity Hospital
Touring maternity hospitals offers many benefits. It can help you determine which one best meets your needs, provides the opportunity to meet the staff and ask questions, and gives you a better idea of what to expect on the big day — all of which can help you feel more confident and less anxious.
Many hospitals make it easy to schedule a free tour, either on their website or over the phone. Here are some essentials to cover during your tour:
- Whether they’ll accept your insurance
- Private room and intensive care nursery availabilities
- Delivery pain relief options
- Their visitation policies
- Whether they offer prenatal, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting classes
2. Attend a Birthing Class
Taking a childbirth class before you go into labor is a great way to familiarize yourself with the labor stages, practice breathing exercises and position changes, and meet fellow parents-to-be. It can help you feel more prepared and relaxed for your child’s arrival.
Most hospitals and birth centers offer childbirth classes, so it should be easy to find one in your area. Better yet, you can enroll in a class through the maternity hospital you plan to have your baby in, if you’ve already selected one.
3. Try Natural Pain Relief Options
Finding ways to relieve pain during labor and childbirth is more than ideal, especially if you’re skipping the epidural. Here are some natural pain relief methods that may help:
- Walk and move around. Standing up, walking, and moving around during early or active labor — while breaking for contractions — can make the pain more bearable. In some cases, it also helps the baby descend into the birth canal, potentially making for a quicker and easier birth.
- Get a massage. Massaging can ease labor pains, reduce stress and anxiety, and help you relax. A study showed that first-time mothers that received a back massage during the first stage of labor experienced less pain than those who didn’t. Remember that one expectant mother might find gentle pressure relaxing, while another might find it stressful or irritating. Try out different massage levels and techniques to determine what feels best for you.
- Try aromatherapy. Research suggests that aromatherapy and essential oils can decrease labor pain and anxiety. Scents like lavender, clary sage, chamomile, frankincense, and peppermint are particularly effective for reducing discomfort, easing tension, and promoting relaxation.
- Use an exercise ball. Studies show that an exercise or birthing ball can help reduce labor pain for women that don’t receive an epidural. Sitting on a birthing ball can strengthen and relax your lower back, offering additional pelvis support.
- Apply a hot or cold compress. Hot and cold packs may help lessen labor pains and boost comfort. Heat relaxes the muscles, while cold reduces pain and tenderness. Both heat and cold provide new sensations and distract nerves, which may reduce the perception of pain. Try placing a heating pad, hot pack, or warm towel below the abdomen during labor. Place a cold pack on your lower back and a cold washcloth on your upper chest, neck, and face.
4. Eat the Right Foods
Believe it or not, certain foods and beverages may make labor and delivery easier. When packing your hospital bag, consider bringing some snacks such as:
- Multigrain crackers or bread
- Brown rice or whole wheat pasta
- Dried fruit and nuts
- Granola bars
- Quinoa and avocado
These foods are a great source of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fiber, providing energy and strength for a potentially long labor. Limited food intake during labor can cause nausea and vomiting, stress, and headaches. Proper nourishment is essential for preventing exhaustion. Ice chips alone won’t cut it!
Some recommended beverages for labor include:
- Water: This prevents dehydration and exhaustion.
- Bone broth: Bone broth can provide energy and ease nausea.
- Electrolyte-filled drinks: Coconut water or lemon-lime labor aid can help with uterine contractions.
5. Enlist Support
An uplifting and positive support system makes all the difference during labor and childbirth. Having a familiar face by your side while you take on a daunting task can help you feel more comfortable and at peace. This could be your partner, a family member, a clinical caregiver, or a doula.
Whether fetching you some ice chips, helping you on and off the exercise ball, giving you a massage, or offering verbal reassurance through each contraction and push, a good support system makes the overall process so much easier.
6. Create a Calming Environment
Bringing a baby into the world is no small task — it requires time, energy, concentration, and courage. Therefore, your birthing environment should help you feel as safe, comfortable, and calm as possible. This can decrease tension and anxiety when labor is in full swing. Here are some ways to create a peaceful childbirth atmosphere:
- Dim the lights.
- Shut the doors to block out noise.
- Have a comfy pillow and clothing.
- Bring essential oils, scented lotion, or room spray in your favorite scents.
- Bring a photo or another personal object from home to help you relax.
- Play your favorite music for a nice distraction.
You can also try visualization techniques when labor pains kick in. Try to picture a relaxing setting, such as the beach or a lake surrounded by mountains.
Exercises to Make Childbirth Easier
While it may feel like the last thing you want to do while pregnant, gentle physical exercise can prepare your body for labor and delivery, build stamina, reduce stress, and keep you in shape. Below are some exercises to help you train your body for labor and childbirth.
Walking is a simple yet highly effective activity to prepare for labor. If you want a challenge, try walking up stairs, hills, or with a lateral band around your legs.
Swimming is a relaxing, low-impact exercise for all trimesters of pregnancy. A dip in the pool can also build endurance and muscle strength, which will both work in your favor when it comes time to push.
3. Butterfly Stretch
Butterfly stretches can relieve tightness and tension in your hips, lower back, and inner thighs. In a seated position, press the soles of your feet together and gently lower your knees toward the ground. Keep your back straight and hold this pose for 20-30 seconds, then repeat as desired.
4. Child’s Pose
The child’s pose strengthens and relaxes your pelvic muscles. Kneel down and sit on your heels, then slowly lean forward and stretch your arms out in front of you. Breathe deeply and repeat as needed. As your belly expands, you may need to spread your knees further apart for additional space.
5. Deep Squats
Deep squats can help open your pelvis, strengthen your hips, and stretch the perineum. Stand with your legs wider than hip-width, then slowly squat down as far as you can go. Keep your hands pressed together in front of you. Do three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Cat/cow stretches relax the lower back and strengthen your abdominal muscles. Get on your hands and knees, then slowly curve your lower back and lift your head, inhaling deeply. Bring your abdomen in and exhale deeply, lowering your head and arching your spine. Repeat several times.
7. Stability Ball Exercises
Using a pregnancy ball can alleviate pressure in your pelvis, spine, and lower back. Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor, then gently bounce up and down. Keep your back straight with your hands on your thighs or belly.
You can also try hip rolls on a stability ball. In a seated position with your feet flat on the floor, move your hips slowly in large circles for 30-40 seconds. Repeat this movement in the opposite direction.
Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, and remember not to push yourself too hard.
Choose Americord for Your Stem Cell Storage Needs
Whether taking a birthing class or trying new exercises, many strategies can help train you for labor and childbirth. Stem cell storage is another important consideration when prepping for your little one’s arrival.
At Americord®, we extract, process, and store stem cells from placental tissue and umbilical cord blood. This process is completely safe and painless, and your family can use the preserved cells for medical or therapeutic purposes. Hematopoietic stem cells have benefited various FDA-approved treatments for leukemias, lymphomas, neutropenias, and other conditions.
If you’d like to learn more about stem cell storage with Americord, schedule a call with us today!