What to do if you are anxious about giving birth

It's very common to feel a little stressed in the lead-up to your baby's birth.
It's very common to feel a little stressed in the lead-up to your baby's birth.  Photo: Getty Images

With a bub on the way, you can't wait to meet your little one. You've felt your baby develop inside you, and kick and roll and you can't wait to see what your baby looks like.

But, on the other hand, you may be feeling scared about actually giving birth - whether due to the pain of labour, or the fear that something might not go as planned.

It's very common to feel a little stressed in the lead-up to your baby's birth. The reality is one in four pregnant women – under that "pregnancy glow" - feel anxious about giving birth.

The good news is that there are proven methods to help you deal with your birth-related anxiety - so take a deep breath, relax and read on.

Practice antenatal yoga

Antenatal yoga classes could help to reduce your anxious feelings, according to a recent English study.

Researchers followed 51 pregnant women during their second or early third trimester of pregnancy. Of these women, slightly more than half attended an eight-week yoga course to reduce their maternal anxiety.

The research group found that, after just one session, these women had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who weren't practicing. They also reported that women who completed the yoga course said they felt less anxious about giving birth.

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The antenatal yoga course in this study was based on the mild, hatha form of yoga. The yoga teacher taught postures to relief pregnancy aches and pain - as well as exercises to help the positioning of the baby, and improve hip flexibility. Plus, breathing techniques for the different stages of labour.

If you'd like to attend similar antenatal yoga classes near you, ask your midwife or obstetrician if there is one in your area.

Talk to your midwife

Sharing your anxious thoughts cannot only help you feel relieved - it can also help you to feel less afraid of giving birth.

A recent study published in Birth followed 198 pregnant women to study the effect of counselling. During two phone sessions, a midwife discussed women's expectations and feelings around childbirth. She also helped to work through the distressing elements of birth.

The Australian research team found that 75% of these women were more confident about giving birth after receiving counselling. This study also indicated that half of the women were less scared of giving birth than before.

If you are not ready to talk with your midwife, another option is to contact the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline. This is a free telephone helpline that provides information and advice especially for pregnant women.

You could also try talking to other pregnant women. Reaching out to others who understand how you're feeling can be incredibly helpful.

Follow antenatal classes

You might have already attended some antenatal classes, or have thought about it. But did you know that these classes may help reduce your fear of childbirth?

A study published in Nursing Research followed 616 pregnant women to investigate the benefits of antenatal classes. Around 90% of these women practised breathing techniques, pushing, and relaxation during the classes. They also discussed labour and delivery.

At the start of their labour, the midwife asked them about their anxiety. The researchers found that women who had attended the classes were actually less anxious than those who hadn't.

Similar antenatal classes are given at most maternity hospitals. You can ask your obstetrician or midwife if they run any or can recommend one.

So, if you're feeling stressed about giving birth, remember: these feelings are completely normal. It is possible to overcome these feelings and look forward to that precious moment of meeting your baby for the first time.

Dr Wendy van Zuijlen is a researcher in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales.