Fear Free Birth

Fear – the enemy of the birthing room

Fear is the ultimate enemy of the birthing room. Fear is what all too often prevents the body from allowing the process of birth to unfold and occur just as it was designed to.

Way back in the 1920s, an English obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read put forward theories before medical boards and associations on the topic that fear was causing tension in the birthing mother’s body, resulting in extra pain. He believed that when the body is relaxed, the firing of neuropeptides in the brain are slowed and therefore pain is lessened and often non-existent.

He was silenced and ridiculed. His papers were dismissed and his medical licence was threatened. Sadly, he never lived to see the recognition this theory would gain and how he was onto it, but ahead of everyone else timewise.

But how does fear have an impact on our body? How can you have a fear free birth?

Let’s start by looking at our incredible Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This system is like a communication network for our bodies – your brain is constantly receiving messages picked up by the ANS. The ANS takes in what is happening in the world around you and also what’s going on in your mind and very cleverly relays messages to the rest of your body instructing it how to respond.

This all happens involuntarily – without you having to consciously control or monitor it.

As you are reading these words, the types of things your ANS is regulating for you right now are your breathing, blinking, swallowing, heart rate, blood flow to the brain, energy production, digestion of your last meal, body temperature, and so on.

It’s just as well that you don’t have to consciously control all of these functions – you’d never have the ability to do anything else in your life!

Within the ANS we have two systems:

  1. The Parasympathetic System: calm, heal, rest and digest state
  2. The Sympathetic System: fight, flight, freeze and emergency state

Ideally, we should be living in a world where we operate out of the calm, healing, rest and digest (Parasympathetic system) most of the time. Where our bodies exist in a state of harmony and healing.

The fight, flight, freeze and emergency state (Sympathetic system) is there for a genuine emergency. If there’s a threat to your life this state will work brilliantly for you. Whenever you’ve been panicked, frightened, startled, or exposed to a genuine or perceived threat the Sympathetic state kicks into gear. Maybe you’ve been in an accident, a car crash or a near-crash, been on a very turbulent and bumpy aeroplane ride, or heard a noise at home alone one night. All of these situations could have caused your fight/flight state to kick into gear. Remember how your heart was pounding in those situations, and you may have felt that extra strength flow through your body thanks to the added adrenalin release? That’s all thanks to this wonderful survival technique.

When this happens your body leaps into action. In a genuine emergency, your brain will trigger your body to immediately release stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and catecholamines. This will send extra blood flow up into your brain, helping you to make quick decisions. Your pupils will dilate, extra blood flow is directed into your arms and legs to help you run away from the threat, or to fight like you’ve never fought before. This is a survival mechanism. It is amazing if we need to flee from a fire, dodge an oncoming car or save our children from a potential accident.

What’s super interesting to note is that whether the threat is REAL or not, the body still responds. So, you could get the same response from your body by imagining a threat. For example, if you were out swimming and were told there was a shark in the water near you, and you believed this was true, then your body would have all the same responses if that was the truth.

Or, your midwife tells you that there is an issue with the ultrasound scan you’ve just had and you immediately jump to the conclusion there is something wrong with your baby. That thought alone has the potential to trigger the Sympathetic state too.

The emergency doesn’t have to be actually happening to you – it can be the thought alone that triggers this fight or flight response.

You may also jump, startle or panic if you noticed a black thing on your sleeve and you thought it was spider, weta, or bee. Even though it’s not a spider and it’s a piece of black fluff, your body is programmed to immediately jump into the fight or flight state to help you respond quickly to a threat.

Sadly, in our modern life, we are jumping into this fight or flight state all too often from potential or perceived threats.  

In the fight/flight state, parts of our body will jump into ‘freeze’ and this is what we need to be aware of in the birthing environment. For example, in labour, blood will be directed away from any artery not essential for defence, and the muscles in our womb will start to be deprived of oxygenated blood – the very fuel they rely on to do their job effectively and efficiently. The release of adrenalin will reduce the amount of oxytocin available to your uterus. Oxytocin is vital to the progress of labour. (You can read more about oxytocin in the Happy Hormones chapter.)

Your birthing muscles were superbly designed to allow your cervix to open and for baby to come down through and out the birth path. But they need the help of oxygenated blood to work properly. When adrenalin is present the soft circular muscles around the cervix will freeze. If you don’t feel safe, they are going to have a much harder job to open up to let the baby out. They are programmed to clamp shut. Your body is hardwired to protect your life and your baby’s life. It will not let you birth a vulnerable newborn if it feels that you are not in a safe place. Yes, a mother can shut down her labour if she is genuinely not safe – she does not want to give birth in a war zone or place full of potential threats.

So, your uterine muscles’ ability is genuinely hindered in this flight, flight, freeze state and therefore labour can slow or stall. This can cause baby to become stressed, or mum gets tired, and with lack of progress we can often find ourselves in a situation where either baby and mum, or both, are not coping so well. The fear, the inability of the muscles to work effectively along with the tension in the mother’s body causes unnecessarily painful sensations. This is the Fear, Tension, Pain syndrome which was the crux of Dr Dick-Read’s theory.

The result of this situation might be that medical intervention is offered to assist the progress of labour and birth, to assist the mother with pain relief, or to rescue the baby from distress.

Essentially you need to feel relaxed and safe to allow your body to progress through the stages of labour and safely birth your baby. You need to be operating out of the calm, heal, rest, digest state. And you need to be free of any fear relating to the birthing environment – because it can be just a thought that triggers the fight or flight.

What if you are worried about the hospital, your caregiver, the threat of any intervention? What if you had suppressed that irrational fear of birth that you’d refused to acknowledge in your pregnancy and you’d heard too many scary stories and paid attention to them. Your body does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined.

My aim is that with the information  the Positive Birth book and with the tools and techniques you learn in classes, you can remain in the calm, healing, rest, digest state in your labour. That your body can work the way it is optimally designed to do so and you can meet your baby in an environment and situation free of fear.

Therefore, if anything is worrying or concerning you about this stage of life, be it pregnancy, birth, or life with baby, a fear release exercise is an amazing investment in your birthing experience.

We want to say “f-off” to fear. Fear is not your friend in our pregnancy and birth. But how do we let it go?

Firstly, you may like to consider any aspects of your life that could be causing any fear, doubts, worries, concerns relating to pregnancy, birth or parenting. Make a list, jot them down, even if they seem tiny. There may be topics you can discuss with your partner, and talking through this may resolve some aspect of the fear.

The best type of fear release exercise will be conducted by a qualified hypnotherapist who can personally do a comprehensive and interactive session with you to work with your specific emotions, feelings and fears.

All my group class programs include a very successful and powerful exercise to help you release your fears, doubts, worries, concerns and anything that could get in the way of you allowing yourself to believe you can achieve the type of birth you’d like to have. It can sometimes feel like a dramatic and profound release, a lightening, a weight off the shoulders. It can alternatively process subtlety in the background of your life over the following days and weeks, but still provide the end result, which is freedom from fear!

If you have decided not to enrol in a full hypnobirthing class with a hypnotherapist which includes a fear release, feel free to contact me for a personal fear release session to help you embark on your birth journey feeling empowered and confident and have a fear free birth.


“We both loved our HypnoBirthing course and have really missed it since it’s ended. We found the course gave us a toolkit to not only prepare for the birth but to also cope with the general stress of big life changes. The strategies we developed during HypnoBirthing will continue to be applied even after the birth of our child. It really is a toolkit for life!”

Sarah and Gareth


… for the partners — do not underestimate your value, I know I could not have done it without Warren and our bond has been strengthened by such a powerful and emotional shared experience. He is my rock and already the best father imaginable.”


Positive Births

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