We break down how stress can affect labour, and the practical steps to overcome it

Beautiful Young Mixed-race Pregnant Woman Standing In Forest

At the risk of making your eyes roll, this article is going to tell you to calm down. Not because childbirth should necessarily be an untainted, fairytale moment, but because staying calm is actually going to help during labour. And let’s be real, most women will take all the help they can get in that delivery room. So take a few minutes out of your day for a bit of calm prep.

But first, why stress less?

When it comes to labour, stressing less is actually solid advice. Stay calm and your body will move things along. Here’s how staying calm can help during labour:

  • Your body: It may be hard to believe right now with your leaking nipples or achy legs, but your body has your back in this whole pregnancy thing, and you’d be wise to return the favour by staying relaxed in the delivery room. That way, the hormones that progress your labour will be released more readily. Hormones like oxytocin help to move the baby (and placenta) on out, and stem the bleeding once your placenta has detached.
  • Your mind: It’s natural to feel a little anxious as your delivery looms closer, but feeling really stressed could interfere with your labour. . When you are feeling threatened your body releases adrenaline, the hormone responsible for the ‘flight or fight’ response. The release of this hormone may actually slow down labour.
  • Your pain: When you face pain, your body helps you out by producing endorphins, which are calming and pain-relieving hormones. Staying calm and confident during labour can boost your body’s production of these feel good hormones.

READ MORE: Childbirth explained

How to stress less

Enough about why you should stress less, here are some practical tips for how to do it.

Know what you’re in for

You’ve probably already taken this first step; from attending birth classes to reading articles like this one. If you’re aware of what’s about to happen, you’re less likely to stress when your first contraction starts. Instead of focusing on that elusive ‘perfect birth’, spend some time thinking about what could go off script. That way if things get out of your control, you’ll be as prepared as you can be to deal with the unexpected.

Practice relaxation

Our favourites include:

  • Rhythmic breathing: Try to balance your in and out breaths, counting slowly as you breathe in; 1, 2, 3, and slowly as you breathe out; 1, 2, 3, 4.
  • Massage: If you’ve got a birthing partner, make sure they’re clued up on how to give you a massage during labour. It’s a great way to reduce muscle tension and distract you in between contractions.
  • Take a dip: The idea of a water birth may have you squirming, but don’t throw out the benefits with the bathwater. Whether it’s hopping under a warm shower for five minutes or into a bath, hot water can ease tension and backache during labour.

Set the mood

Don’t underestimate the power of a bit of feng shui. Bring your own pillows, assign your partner as DJ to your personal smooth FM and bring an electric candle or two. Listening to soft music with a steady beat can help you focus during contractions.

Accept the pain

Fearing the pain of labour will only serve to put you through more stress. Instead of fighting it, try to ride with it, breathe through it, and reassure yourself that it’s only temporary. And remember - asking for pain medication, even if you’d planned for a natural birth, is not a failure. Trust yourself, and listen to your body.

Don’t watch the clock

Drop any expectation around the amount of time your labour should take. Concepts of time, unless it’s to count your contractions, won’t help you relax. If your doctors need to step in to speed things along, they will. Stay present and get through things one contraction at a time.

If you’re feeling really stressed or anxious, chat to your doctor to get some support. Put a little prep in now, so you don’t feel totally overwhelmed in the delivery room.