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01st May 2018

Freaking out about giving birth? Here are 3 hacks to get labour-ready

"It doesn’t matter where your body is when you’re giving birth, it’s where your head is."

Sylda Dwyer

Remember that birth scene in Knocked Up, where the doctor tells Katherine Heigl to stop screaming in case she scares the other women?

Or the part in What to Expect When You’re Expecting when Elizabeth Banks slaps her husband across the face because he’s trying to talk her out of the epidural? Both scenes are comedy gold but neither are particularly accurate representations of what giving birth is really like.

When we see birth onscreen, it’s always brightly lit, super-fast, with lots of screaming, surgical masks and people running everywhere. If you’ve seen enough birth scenes like this, coupled with the delicious horror stories people only love to tell pregnant women, then there’s a good chance you’re holding on to a reasonable amount of fear about labour.

These 3 mind hacks will help you stop worrying and start looking forward to the day of your baby’s birth.

1. Challenge the thought

When we’re anxious about something, the natural thing for our minds to do is linger on those thoughts. But the problem with focusing on things that worry us is that it affects our bodies too. It’s something we call the mind-body connection. Think about it. You’re sitting in traffic at a red light; you’re thinking about going into labour and your thoughts drift to an emergency C-section. What happens to your body when you have that thought? Your mouth probably gets a bit dry. Your blood pressure might go up a little bit. Your hands might get sweaty and grip the steering wheel. It’s not a nice feeling.

Every thought you have has an effect on your body. And the opposite is true too. Think about the last holiday you had. If you close your eyes and concentrate hard enough, you can feel the sun on your skin and the sand between your toes. The mind is a very powerful thing.

In many ways, it doesn’t matter where your body is when you’re giving birth, it’s where your head is at. So a great way to deal with those negative thoughts keeping you awake at night is to challenge them. When you have that little negative niggle, stop and notice that you’ve had that thought. Ask yourself, “is this thought making me feel more anxious or more excited about having this baby?” If the answer is yes, then change the thought. Pick anything. Cast your mind back to that lovely holiday again or the feeling of holding your baby in your arms for the first time and the lovely fuzzy feeling it give you. Does it sound too simple? I promise if you try it every day for just one week, you’ll start to notice you’re feeling calmer and more confident about your baby’s arrival.

2. Make like Conor McGregor

When you think about it, there really isn’t a big difference between a professional athlete preparing for an important competition and a pregnant mum preparing for the birth of her baby. You know the big day is coming, you’re getting your body and your head ready, and you’re about to experience one of the greatest physical and mental challenges of your life. You are awesome, and you better believe it. So why not act like a professional athlete? Start thinking like Conor McGregor.

Visualise how you’d like the birth of your baby to go. Play it out in your head like it’s already happened. See yourself having your baby and how amazing it feels now that they’re finally here. Then play it in your head again. We’re back to that mind-body connection. Your brain can’t tell the difference between something that’s really happening and something you’re vividly imagining.

So, on the day your labour starts, your brain will say “aha, I recognise this sensation. I’ve done this before” It’s a lovely boost of your confidence.

3. Five minute mindfulness

So you have your positive thinking and your visualisation down now. What about when things don’t go the way you planned? The one thing we know for certain about birth is that it’s unpredictable, and the only thing we can control about it is how we react to it. This is where your five minutes of daily mindfulness comes in. Taking just five minutes out of your day every day during your pregnancy to just sit and pay attention to your breath on purpose, will make all the difference to how you react to things happening in your life.

Mindfulness helps you step back and observe what’s going on around you, and respond rather than react to situations. It also has positive benefits for blood pressure, stress management and feelings of wellbeing. When things might go off-track a little bit, a regular mindfulness practice will give you the resilience to remain calm and absorb all the information you need to make the right decisions for you and your baby. So settle in, close your eyes, bring all of your attention to your breath. When you feel your mind wander, just take note that your thoughts have shifted and then bring them back to your breath. Easy, right?

You’ve got this, mama.

Sylda Dwyer is a GentleBirth birth preparation instructor and Doula. She teaches workshops in Dublin and provides support and advice to women and their partners in pregnancy, birth and early parenting. For more, find her at AlphaBirth or catch up with her at @birth_rocks.