Natural Solutions for Birth Anxiety
by Jennifer Hautman, Birth Anxiety Specialist
I believe that birth can be a joyful, relaxed and transformational experience. I know this because I’ve experienced it, and so have many of my clients. In 2008 I gave birth to my son at home, in a birth pool, without any drugs, using ujjayi (yogic) breating and some homeopathic remedies. The contractions were painless, and only a little uncomfortable at times. I had my mother and my husband there, a Doula, and my local NHS Homebirth Midwife team (UCLH). It was amazingly satisfying and empowering to know that this is possible. Unfortunately however, this is not often the experience of the mothers today, and there are many things that can prevent this kind of experience from being the 'norm', and cause women to feel anxious about or even fear giving birth, including:
- Difficulties achieving and maintaining pregnancy
- Previous birth trauma
- The trauma of your own birth
- Media portrayal of birth as frightening and traumatic
- Stories told to you by (well-meaning) friends and family
- Pre-existing health conditions and anxiety
- Complications arising from pregnancy
- Lack of a strong relationship with your midwife or other carers, with no guarantee of who will be there to help you on the day
- Lack of close family members who are able to support you and your choices.
As a result, in the UK, only about 2.3% of births are at home, about 25% of births are through c-sections - with 10% being 'elective' and 15% being 'emergency'. In the United States, as many as 40% of births are through C-sections. Compare this to the 'gold standard' of birth statistics when midwifery is at it's best:
- 94.7% Home Births
- 5.2% Hospital Transfers
- 1.7% C-Sections
- 96.8% success rate for VBACs
(vaginal births after previous c-sections).
Unfortunately however, given the pressures on the UK National Health Service, the shortage of midwives, and the fact that Independent Midwives are no longer able to offer the private, more personal care they specialised in, it is becoming harder for many women to get the individual care and attention needed to be able to navigate an optimal birth experience for themselves, their families, and life beyond. Added to this, images of birth in popular culture rarely portray a drug free, blissful, home birth in a pool, but are more often ‘dramatic’ and ‘traumatic’ portrayals, which are both a symptom of, and a contributory factor, to an epidemic of ‘birth anxiety’.
The truth is however, a woman's fear and anxiety, in any form, releases hormones that can slow or stop a labour from progressing, potentially leading to all manner of interventions and complications. In fact, the more anxious and fearful we are in labour, the more likely we are to have a traumatic birth experience, leading to more trauma for ourselves and our families. And yet simple interventions, at the right time, can also quickly remove these fears, allowing the birth to progress easily. So the sooner we can begin to address these fears or anxieties, even if it's just days before your due date, or even better, perhaps even before conception, the better.
This is where a Doula comes in.
The role of a Doula is to be a skilled birth attendant who can ‘Mother the Mother’. In these times where few of us even live in the same country as our parents and other family members, this role is becoming increasingly needed. Moreover, there is evidence to show that having a Doula can:
- Reduce the risk of Caesarean birth by 50%
- Reduce the risk of instrumental birth (eg forceps)
- Reduce the need for painkillers or epidural during birth by 60%
- Reduce the rate of induction of labour
- Shorten labour by 25%
- Increase parental satisfaction with the birth experience
- Increase the likelihood of initiating breastfeeing
- increase the likelihood of successfully establishing breastfeeding and breastfeeding at 6 weeks.
Apart from getting a Doula, what else can be done to reduce your fear of birth?
In my experience of almost 10 years of being a natural healthcare practitioner, having worked with hundreds of families, there are MANY things that can be done to reduce women’s fear and anxiety around birth and labour, and support women to have the best birth experience possible. Plus, it can be done using gentle, natural, non-toxic, non-addictive, yet effective forms of medicine, together with lots of listening, coaching and careful, loving guidance.
1. Inform yourself of what REAL birth is like, because it is NOT what you see in the movies.
In my 20's, I found a copy of Ina May Gaskin's 'Spriritual Midwifery' in a local health food shop. I didn't have the guts to buy it at first. I had no intention of having a child any time soon, and none of my close friends had children yet either, but I was fascinated by that book, and eventually plucked up the courage to buy it. I read it like a secret guilty pleasure, and LOVED it.
A decade or so later, having qualified as a homeopath in 2007, I was pregnant when I found Ina May's updated version, 'Guide to Childbirth'. I read it like a bible in the last weeks of my pregnancy, and even though I never met her, I considered her to be my lead midwife.
What I loved most about Ina May's books, is that she gives the TRUE story of so many births, told in the mothers (and other carers) own words. The first half of both books is just REAL birth stories, and the second half of each book covers the basics of midwifery in laypersons terms that is easy to understand and hugely empowering.
These books taught me to not be afraid of my own body, but to be in awe of what it can do, if we can just let it get on with it. They also taught me to not be afraid of 'normal' symptoms of pregnancy, and what to look out for that might suggest something might not be right, and most importantly, to know how to prevent it or what to do about it.
They also highlighted that a mother's fear and anxiety, in any form, can actually slow or stop a labour from progressing, potentially leading to all manner of interventions and complications, and yet simple interventions at the right time, can also quickly remove these fears allowing the birth to progress easily.
2. Don’t listen to the ‘scare stories’.
If you are pregnant, or even thinking about getting pregnant, just don’t listen to anyone’s scare stories about birth. Just politely tell them you only want to hear positive birth stories, switch of the TV, and do everything you can to immerse yourself in reassuring information and advice. This is not to say that you should not inform yourself. Do that as much as you possibly can, but keep some perspective and try to keep the emotions of drama and fear out of your research. Seek help as much as possible, and acknowledge your feelings as they come up.
3. Use natural medicines to treat your anxiety and anything else that is bothering you.
My two preferred forms of natural medicine are Homeopathy and Certified Pure, therapeutic Grade (CPTG) Essential Oils. These are perfect for women preparing for birth, firstly because they are safe and effective, but also because they can quickly and gently effect the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of women in pregnancy, birth and beyond.
For example, when I started practising as a homeopath, one of the first patients I saw was a woman who came to me for anxiety and depression. The birth of her first child had been very traumatic, and she had suffered from post-natal depression. Now, she was pregnant with her second child, and the depression was coming back. With homeopathic treatment however, the depression soon lifted, her general health improved, and she went on to have a wonderfully cathartic home birth in a pool, and had an "angel" of a baby.
As for CPTG Essential Oils, they are now being increasingly used in hospitals in Europe and the US, including in midwifery wards, because they can quickly affect the limbic system (the parts of our brain involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory), which in turn affects our hormonal and nervous systems.
Studies have shown, for example, that:
“The use of aromatherapy during childbirth was an increasingly popular care option with mothers and midwives. More than 50% of mothers rated it as helpful... The administration of aromatherapy in childbirth did appear to reduce the need for additional pain relief in a proportion of mothers… The study also showed that aromatherapy may have the potential to augment labour contractions for women in dysfunctional labour.”
Essential Oils have also been found to be “effective in lowering blood pressure, reducing heart rate and improving mood”, all of which are beneficial to helping women to relax and prepare for the journey of giving birth. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26780148
Furthermore, Essential oils have been found to be useful after birth, in cases of post-natal depression: “aromatherapy had significant improvements greater than the control group”. However in contrast to many conventional anti-depressants that are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, with Essential Oils: “there were no adverse effects reported.” (The effects of clinical aromatherapy for anxiety and depression in the high risk postpartum woman - a pilot study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22789792 )
Another other reason why I love homeopathy and CPTG Essential Oils, is because the experience of using them provides the perfect foundation for learning to take charge of your own (and your growing family's) health and wellbeing, for years to come. My aim is therefore not only to treat women and their families myself, but to teach parents how to use these wonderful tools for themselves. For this reason, I teach regular classes in cafe's, private homes, and online in my closed Facebook groups.
"I loved, loved, loved using essential oils before, during and after my pregnancy! It was by far the best pregnancy I have had. I used them with my third baby. I used lemon, or any other citrus oil in water, and I never had any swelling. I took 'lifelong vitality' supplements and I felt my hormones were always balanced. I rubbed frankincense and lavender on my abdomen every day to reduce stretch marks... My recovery was so quick I had to remind myself when I got tired that I'd just had a baby. The 'anti-aging' blend made healing a very quick process. I loved having the oils after delivery to continue to help my baby... I knew he was protected because he was in own essential oil bubble." Kathy
If you would like to know more, or book a free 15 min meeting to help you decide if I might be able to help you, please email me at email@example.com or call me on 07766057823