Wednesday 29 January 2020

How to overcome your fear of childbirth

Fears about the process of childbirth are common, and as Emily McElarney explains this is why she set up Positive Birth Movement Dublin

Positive thinking will help with giving birth
Positive thinking will help with giving birth

'She believed she could and so she did.'

Simple and true.

It could refer to anything - running a marathon, taking a stand against adversity, learning to read... it could also refer to giving birth.

The problem with birth though is that so many women are ingrained with a belief that they cannot do it.

Why? Because of conditioning, lack of self-esteem, negative language, perceived weakness, society's attitude to pregnancy and birth, the constant reinforcement of the idea that labour and birth are pretty horrific, or all of the above.

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We are all accustomed to think ing that birth is unpleasant. Maybe that was designed to make us afraid of getting pregnant as a teenager or perhaps it's a hangover from the late 70s or 80s when a lot of the medical interventions around birth were introduced. Who knows? But I have yet to meet a first-time expectant mum who isn't concerned about if and how she'll cope with giving birth.

For the past few years I've been helping women prepare for birth by teaching them hypnobirthing. One of the first things you learn in hypnobirthing is how important it is to have a positive outlook. It's not about unrealistic goals, but it is about learning to relax, trust your body, breathe and keep calm and positive, whatever path your birthing takes. The next thing you learn is how to keep negativity out.

Negativity about birth is everywhere

It's in the language used around birth - think about the word 'contraction'. The economy contracted and nobody did very well out of it. That's not even mentioning the bloody show, transition, mucus plug, waters breaking... who wants to experience that?

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Negativity around birth is also shared all around us, by women mostly (but I know men do it to each other too!). Horror stories, war stories, stories with lots of blood, trauma and often sadness. I think women do it to 'mark your card'. Women who say "I'm hoping to have a birth without drugs or interventions" will sometimes receive a snigger or eyes to heaven and "good luck with that" or be told they are totally unrealistic.

The reality is that there are so many factors that contribute to how birth goes: baby's position, mum's health, mum's outlook and mindset, baby's health, baby's mindset and outlook, the birthing atmosphere and environment, the amount of oxytocin and endorphins present, mum's position, how active mum is... I could go on and on. So with that in mind, you either take on anyone else's experience of birth or presume yours will play out the same way.

Negative birth stories do not benefit anyone. They do not 'prepare' the expectant mum for what she will experience. They do not 'educate' her. They do not prevent the same happening to her. They do not teach her anything. But negative stories do terrify her. They do teach her subconscious mind, the part of her mind that has a huge role in labour and birth, that birth is something to be very wary of. They do frighten her. They do plant a big fat seed of doubt in her mind.

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In 2012, research on the effect of fear in childbirth was published in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The study, carried out in Norway, found that women who openly stated they felt a fear of childbirth had a longer labour. Fear of birth also resulted in an increased rate of instrumental delivery (forceps or vacuum delivery) or emergency Caesarean delivery.

The study found that women with a fear of childbirth were almost twice as likely to need obstetric interventions then those who were not afraid.

Clearly we need to dispel the fear

In 2012, Milli Hill, a mum, writer and positive birth activist, set up The Positive Birth Movement. Her idea was to have meet-ups where people could gather together and spread positivity about birth. The Positive Birth Movement is now a global entity with over 300 branches worldwide. It is not about marketing a particular product, birthing programme or the latest birthing app. It's just about getting together face-to-face and sharing positive stories, tips and advice.

In February, myself and a friend and colleague Amber Leipner opened the first Positive Birth Movement Dublin meeting. The elbowroom in Dublin 7 kindly jumped on board to offer a venue, as promoting positive birth is a huge part of their ethos. We really weren't sure if we would have anyone there but to our delight we were joined by amazing, inspiring mums, mums-to-be and even a dad

We heard stories of great hospital births, beautiful home births and a fabulous gentle C-section birth story. We drank tea and ate cake. We laughed, we ooh'd and ahh'd, we asked questions and we learned. It was exactly what we hoped it would be. And we are open to everybody.

The Positive Birth Movement Dublin meets at 11am on the last Sunday of every month in The elbowroom,

Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. You can learn more at and the Dublin branch can be contacted via Emily McElarney is a mum of three from Dublin. She teaches hypnobirthing, birth preparation classes, pregnancy yoga, and mum and baby yoga at

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