You’ve carried this baby for two trimesters and done all your parenting prep. Now that you’re in the home stretch and have everything all set, it’s time to kick back and relax. Or is it?With the star event – the birth – on the horizon, you’re suddenly gripped with more fears and anxieties than you’ve ever imagined. Having a baby is a life-changing event, and with an upcoming due date, it’s only a matter of days before your life changes forever. Your clock is ticking, and the reality of that just sunk it. Welcome to the pre-labour jitters.
What are Pre-labour Jitters?
For many moms-to-be, labour and delivery can create anxiety. It’s a visceral experience, with your body going through a physically traumatising process. Childbirth also signals the start of your journey as a parent. That’s a lot to deal with, so it’s no wonder mommies can get stressed out about it!
“I remember waking up in cold sweat at night in the weeks leading up to my due date. I didn’t really understand why, but I knew I was feeling scared about the childbirth. I didn’t know what to expect,” recalls accounts executive Sarah Tan, 34, and mom-of-one.
First-time moms are not the only ones affected by pre-labour jitters. Janice Lim, who wanted to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarean) with her second pregnancy, said, “Even though my pregnancy was smooth, I was still worried that complications might occur with the need to have another C-section.”
According to psychologist Jay-Lee Nair, who works with expectant women in her line of work, pre-labour jitters are very common. “Most women experience some level of anxiety about the birth process, regardless of whether it is their first or subsequent childbirth. This is because every childbirth is different and there is always uncertainty about what will happen during the actual delivery.”
“It is natural for expectant women to be anxious about their labour and delivery. In most cases, the anxieties are moderate in nature and seldom reach a level that impairs normal functioning,” says Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, Head and Senior Consultant, Inpatient Services, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).
Some of the questions that can frazzle to-be moms include:
• “Will there be complications?”
• “Will it hurt?”
• “How long will it take?”
• “How will Baby be delivered?”
• “Will Baby be safe?”
(See also: Creating your Birth Plan)
What can you do to Cope with Pre-labour Jitters?
Even though it is common to experience some anxiety about childbirth, it isn’t healthy to bottle them up or brush them off. Many moms-to-be share their feelings with friends and loved ones. Online communities and discussion forums also offer support among those going through the same thing.
Since a large part of these worries stem from a ‘fear of the unknown’, making sure you have the right information and knowledge regarding labour and delivery goes a long way in allaying those fears.
“The majority of expectant moms are well-read and draw on educational resources to be informed, such as attending regular antenatal classes run by KKH,” says A/Prof Tan. “Our doctors and nurses work closely with pregnant women to address any concerns or anxieties they may have. This includes providing advice specific to the patient’s progress and condition, educating them on options for pain relief during labour, and sharing educational literature or information where relevant.”
You can also prepare a birth plan to communicate your birth preferences to your medical team. This prevents any miscommunication and reduces potential disappointment about a birth that didn’t go the way you wanted.
But if you find that these have not worked to reduce your anxieties about childbirth, there are methods of birth preparation aimed at empowering women during labour. “Most worries and concerns are irrational. They create anxiety and are not helpful. There are ways to manage them and feel more in control going into the delivery room, such as mental skills training,” says Dr. Jay-Lee.
(See also: All About Prenatal Classes)
Mental Preparation for Labour & Childbirth
If you’ve heard of hypnobirthing, you’ll find some of the techniques below familiar. Just like hypnobirthing, mental skills training uses relaxation techniques, but also incorporates mental strategies traditionally used in sports to prepare athletes for competitions.
(See also: Hypnobirthing: A Calmer Birth)
“Rather than avoiding thoughts of the birth process, I recommend mentally rehearsing a preparatory routine you would like to follow before leaving home for the delivery, as well as in the hospital setting,” says Dr. Jay-Lee. “This enhances feelings of confidence and control.”
Try it yourself: Picture yourself at home and going about your activities at a leisurely pace. Actively create a relaxed state of mind. Imagine the car ride to the hospital as a calm and pleasant one. Upon arrival at the hospital, visualise the hospital setting in as much detail as possible. You can also picture supportive and relaxed people around you. The more familiar you can become with the birth setting and begin to associate it with positive emotions, the more empowered you will feel when it comes to the real thing.
Change Negative Thinking
Negative thoughts erode our faith that things will go well, and cause us to anticipate the worst. That’s why it’s important to challenge beliefs and perceptions that are unhelpful and make things seem worse than they actually are.
In psychology, this is part of cognitive behavioural therapy, where patients are guided to use logic to overthrow negative thoughts, and to replace them with empowering thoughts.
Try it yourself: If you find yourself thinking, “Labour will be so painful! I’m not ready at all,” halt that thought. Correct it with an empowering thought instead, such as “Labour pains are temporary and I must focus on what I can control. I am in control of my mindset, my thoughts, and my breathing to respond well to any pain or discomfort. When it’s all over, I’ll be able to hold my baby in my arms.” You can apply this when performing mental rehearsal, or anytime you find a negative thought creeping up.
During labour, breathing deeply releases tension, keeps your mind focused, and helps to manage the pain. Practising breathing techniques in preparation for the birth will help relaxing become second nature during the actual labour.
Try it yourself: Here is a simple breathing technique that you can practise at home. As you breathe in, count slowly to three or four, and as you exhale, count backwards to one. Counted breathing encourages you to take long, slow breaths, taking your mind off labour discomfort.
Visualisation is a useful tool to relieve anxiety and stress about the birth. In mental skills training, mental imagery is used to promote a sense of calm, such as through imagining being in a peaceful location or by recalling a happy memory.
“These mental strategies act as pleasant distractions for the mind to tune out uncomfortable sensations or unwanted thoughts. They are coping techniques to help expectant women feel calmer, more prepared, and more able to process events during labour without panic,” says Dr. Jay-Lee.
(See also: Your Hospital Delivery Bag Checklist)