Preparing to give birth can evoke a range of emotions. You may be nervously excited about the big day, or you may find yourself filled with anxiety and dread for months on end.
No matter how you feel, you’re not alone.
“Giving birth is one of those things that is totally unpredictable, and that element of uncertainty can be hard,” says Yasmeen Bruckner, a certified nurse midwife who attends births at the Childbirth Center at UW Medical Center – Northwest. “Even if it’s not your first time, you might have anxiety about how things will go this time.”
So how can you deal with any fears you may have about giving birth? Bruckner shares her top tips for planning and preparing for your baby’s arrival.
Communicate with your support team
Although it can feel like you’re in this by yourself — after all, you’re the one giving birth — your obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) or midwife, family and friends are all there for you.
Share your concerns and fears with them and see what advice they can offer on ways to cope.
“Sometimes it can be helpful to normalize the experience,” Bruckner explains. “It can help people to hear that what they’re worrying about is a common worry.”
Along with discussing what you’re worried about, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re on the same page as your birth team before you go into labor. Talk about your birth plan, and have a conversation about how you’d like to best be supported during childbirth as well as after you give birth.
Learn what you can about childbirth
Knowledge is power, and that definitely applies to giving birth.
“Having good information is empowering,” Bruckner says. “I think arming yourself with good information can be really helpful, whether that’s a vetted book or a childbirth education class.”
Want an unmedicated birth? Researching different labor techniques can help you develop a game plan and feel more prepared. Scared of the pain being too intense? Identifying available pain-relief options can help you feel more relaxed and reassured.
It’s also important to think about all the possibilities, Bruckner says. Even if you’re hoping for a medication-free birth, it’s still a good idea to know what to expect if things don’t go the way you planned.
“Even if you are not planning a C-section, I recommend thinking about what your preferences would be in case you need one,” she explains. “Not that you need to spend all of your energy focused on that, but considering the other possibilities can be helpful.”
She suggests finding a few reliable sources (and, no, that parenting message board doesn’t count) and reading up on the subjects you are most concerned about. If you don’t know where to start, ask your OB-GYN or midwife for recommendations.
Aside from doing your own research, it can also be helpful to take a childbirth education class to learn about everything from the stages of labor to how to breastfeed. Some healthcare organizations, like UW Medicine, partner with local groups to offer a variety of classes for expecting parents.
Avoid internet rabbit holes
While arming yourself with knowledge can go a long way toward helping you feel more comfortable and informed about giving birth, there is a limit.
“I think the internet can sometimes be a rabbit hole, where there’s so much information and so many experiences shared online,” Bruckner says.
In other words, there’s a big difference between reading up on childbirth and anxiously doomscrolling worst-case scenarios you find online.
If you realize you’re feeling stressed and anxious after every session with Dr. Internet, try to curb your urge to scroll. Instead, stick to a few trusted resources and keep your reading focused to topics that are relevant to you.
Find helpful ways to cope
Let’s say you’ve prepared and planned as much as you can, but you’re still feeling anxious about the big day. Bruckner suggests finding other ways to cope.
“Pregnancy is a really transformational time,” she explains. “Sometimes it helps people to recognize they need a coping strategy and to seek that out.”
Your specific coping strategy might be adopting a mindfulness practice like meditation or deep breathing. It might be journaling or going for a walk. Maybe it’s even rehearsing your breathing techniques for labor.
Whatever it is that works for you, make it a point to practice your coping strategy regularly and see if it makes a difference.
Be honest with yourself
There are times, however, when coping strategies aren’t enough to help you deal with the level of anxiety you’re feeling.
Bruckner encourages you to check in with yourself regularly.
“If you’re experiencing constant worry, anxiety, depression or other thoughts or feelings that don’t seem right to you — talk with your healthcare provider or therapist,” she says. “Be honest with yourself about where you are with your mental health and reach out if you need more support.”
At UW Medicine and many other healthcare organizations, your OB-GYN or midwife will screen you for depression or anxiety at the beginning of your pregnancy. But if things change for you in the following months, don’t be afraid to speak up.
“Worry that interferes with your life is a sign that something bigger may be going on for you,” Bruckner explains. “There are tools that we use to help us understand who may be tipping into that worry or anxiety that’s really affecting their life.”
With a little help, you’ll be able to find your path through the rest of pregnancy and into parenthood.