How to manage a fear of labour

Posted in Labour & Delivery, Preparing for Birth and tagged .

pregnant mumma relaxing yoga

Labour pain? It’s all in your head. Wouldn’t it be great if that were true? No more fear, no more mind-bending pain meds and no screaming blue murder at your partner. What a refreshing introduction to motherhood that would be. Yet perhaps this isn’t quite as far-fetched as it first sounds. Particularly when taking a look at the ‘science’ of birthing.

Expert birth educator Stacey Astley-Clark reveals her top five ways to prepare your mind for birth, including simple techniques you can start doing right now.

Your birthing brain

Did you know that giving birth is actually an instinctive process? Controlled by the ‘reptilian brain’ (the same area that controls breathing and digestion), women have a Natural Expulsive Reflex (NER), which is specifically designed to release your baby into the world. This reflex is the reason why women have even been known to birth naturally while in a coma.

The truth is, your body already knows how to birth – the problems start when your mind gets involved. This is because when you start thinking, you stimulate the rational, Neo Cortex part of your brain and this shuts down your instinctive brain. The result? You literally forget how to give birth.

So the single most impactful thing you can do to prepare for birth is to learn to master your mind. Women who birth mindfully often find that labour progresses more smoothly, fear is eliminated and the physical sensations are manageable (and even enjoyable for some). However, a wayward mind during labour is like a bull in a china shop.

Here are Stacey’s five top tips for taming the brain and conquering the fear of labour.

1. Educate yourself

How can you relax when you have no idea what’s happening to you or what your options are? Do your research, read inspiring, evidence-based books (I love Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth) and attend birthing classes. When it comes to labour, knowledge really is power.

2. Visualise your perfect birth

Every time you visualise something you create a new neural pathway in your brain, and this gets strengthened
with each practice. So, by visualising exactly how you want to look and feel during labour, you can program your brain to believe you have already given birth, so when things start to get real, it all just comes naturally.

3. Eliminate the fear

This is without a doubt the biggest hurdle standing between you and your beautiful birth. Tackle the fear with Hypnobirthing and 90 per cent of all the other stuff will fall into place.

4. Exhale

The Extended Exhale Breath is an ancient Pranayama technique that switches off your adrenalin and instantly calms the nervous system.

How to do the Extended Exhale Breath

‘You make me feel so calm and blissed out’. This is something I hear time and time again from the women who attend my prenatal yoga classes. And while I’d love to take credit for their sudden serenity, I sadly possess no
superpowers. The real magic lies in the Pranayama or yogic breathing exercises that use ancient wisdom to transform these women’s state of mind. One of the most useful (and simple) techniques for pregnant women is the Extended Exhale Breath.

Its benefits include:

  • Calming of the mind
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Blocking of adrenalin (fight or flight response)
  • Releasing endorphins (happy hormones)
  • Relief of insomnia

So you can see why it’s popular with pregnant women! It is also a powerful pain-relieving breath that can be safely used between contractions during labour.

Here’s how to do it:

  1.  Sit up tall on a chair or floor cushion or lie in a comfortable position with
    a straight spine
  2. Inhale (through the nose) for a count of 3
  3. Exhale (through the nose) for a count of 3
  4. Inhale for a count of 3
  5. Exhale for a count of 4
  6. Inhale for a count of 3
  7. Exhale for a count of 5
  8. Inhale for a count of 3
  9. Exhale for a count of 6
  10. Inhale for a count of 3
  11. Exhale for a count of 6

The aim is to work your way up so that your exhale eventually becomes twice as long as your inhale. You can do this anywhere, at any time and it only takes 3-5 minutes to be effective – a good excuse to put the smartphone away and transform your commute into a blissful birthing practice.

5. Find a Prenatal Yoga Class

The word Yoga means ‘union’- union of body, mind and breath, and union with your ‘inner self’. I personally
believe there is no greater Yoga than the union between a mother and her baby. Prenatal Yoga is about so much more than just stretching. An experienced teacher will show you how to withdraw from external stimuli, go within and connect to your baby. You can also learn specific Asana (poses) to kick-start your relaxation response.


Stacey Astley-Clark is the founder of Buddha Babies; a social enterprise that helps expectant parents experience beautiful births using the power of Hypnobirthing and prenatal yoga. She teaches the official Hypnobirthing Australia™ course and donates 20 per cent of all fees to the fight against child trafficking.

For more information visit Buddha Babies.

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