Common Fears About Giving Birth—and How to Overcome Them

Feeling nervous—or downright scared? A labor and delivery nurse (and mom!) shares her tips for facing the anxiety around childbirth
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By Liesel Teen, Founder of Mommy Labor Nurse
Updated August 10, 2021
Contemplative pregnant woman looking at her belly.
Image: Mahoo Studio

Are you starting to have some feelings of fear or anxiety crop up as your due date gets closer? Believe it or not, this is completely normal!

Hi, I’m Liesel Teen, a labor and delivery nurse and the face behind Mommy Labor Nurse. First and foremost, I want to tell you that almost every mama who comes into the maternity wing has some degree of fear around what’s about to happen. (I almost think it’s a red flag if you’re not a tiny bit nervous.)

Here’s the thing: After attending thousands of births, I’ve realized that the common denominator when it comes to birth and fear is facing what’s unknown.

At the end of the day, one thing is for certain: Knowledge equals confidence in every aspect of life, birth included. So I want to address some of the most common labor and birth fears, and share tips that’ll help you feel educated and informed as the big day approaches. Are you ready? Let’s leave that anxiety at the delivery room door.

How to Address Your Birth Fears

Recognizing your fears is the first step in overcoming them. Many times, women are afraid of childbirth because they’ve been told that it’s scary—or they see childbirth and it looks scary. This message has been programmed into us for our whole lives—whether it’s our friends, family, the media, tv, movies, etc.—we’ve been told over and over again that childbirth is painful and scary. Because of this, we go into the experience with a lot of trepidation and anxiety. We don’t know how to feel any other way!

If you’re afraid of what’s to come, I invite you to ask yourself: What about childbirth am I actually afraid of?

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  • Is it the fear of the unknown? Educate yourself on the childbirth process with a birth class that fits your individual needs.
  • Is it the pain? Read up on medical pain relief options and natural coping techniques.
  • Is it the location? Do a tour of your hospital, and see if you’re able to switch practices or locations if you’re unhappy. Talk to your provider, it’s never too late to make a change.
  • Is it that you just think you won’t be able to do it? Start implementing positive birth affirmations now, assemble an awesome support team and shift your mindset (again, education will go a long way in helping you feel confident!).

Fear, when broken down, is often associated with the unknown or a lack of information and awareness about something (whether it’s birth or something else entirely). Once you make the decision to start educating yourself about your upcoming birth, I promise it’ll eliminate some of your fears.

My Experience With the Unknowns of Birth and Postpartum

So now that we’ve talked about how to figure out the root of your fears related to birth, I want to get a little more personal with you. A lot of mamas are surprised to hear that even as an labor and delivery nurse, I, too, faced fear and anxiety before both of my births. And, honestly, I’d say that’s true for most of my friends in the medical field.

I think the biggest difference is that because we are “experts” so to speak on birth, we’re able to balance our fears with our knowledge, and are a bit more informed about where to turn for resources and support. It’s actually a big reason why I started the Mommy Labor Nurse platform, to share all of this with more pregnant women than I ever could in my work as a labor and delivery nurse alone.

So let me share a bit about some of the fears I faced to show you that you aren’t alone.

Fear of needing a c-section

I was a c-section baby, and, I had some real irrational fear surrounding the potential need to have one—especially because both of my babies were in an occiput posterior (face up) position.

Both times I was able to give birth vaginally, but leading up to the events, I had to focus on shifting my mindset to be more flexible, and create a more positive association with this very real possibility. I reminded myself that—even if my birth plan had to pivot—a healthy, safe delivery would remain the priority.

Fear that I couldn’t handle the pain

Before my first child was born, I knew I really wanted to experience an unmedicated birth, but I was genuinely afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it. I addressed this fear with focused preparation. I always like to compare it to studying for a really hard exam. (And, in the end, I was so pumped to test all that I’d learned.)

I soaked up as much information as I could about natural pain coping strategies, listened to tons of positive unmedicated birth stories and assembled a birth team with support I could count on. I achieved my goal with focused preparation! Of course, you have to listen to your body, show yourself grace and allow yourself flexibility in the moment.

Fear of postpartum anxiety

Before my second baby was born, I had a lot of fear surrounding postpartum. This was because I experienced significant postpartum anxiety with my first, as well as issues with breastfeeding. I was hyper-aware and afraid it would happen the second time around.

Addressing this fear involved making very intentional preparations and lining up support to help prevent this from happening again. Fortunately, it did keep things at bay for a while; eventually, though, that familiar feeling of anxiety crept up on me. Fortunately, this time I was able to identify the warning signs and get the help I needed in a much timelier manner.

Unpacking Common Childbirth Fears

I think it only makes sense to address some of the most common fears I hear from mamas as they’re preparing for birth. Chances are, you might be thinking about these things too.

Fear of tearing

Tearing is (understandably) an aspect of birth that a lot of women are scared of. And the truth is, tearing during birth is very common. In fact, more than four out of five first-time moms will experience a tear during labor.

But the good news? The majority of those tears will be very minor. In one study of over 38,000 births, only .25 percent of women experienced third- or fourth-degree tears. So the odds are really good that your tear will actually be no big deal. Here are some quick tips on how to prevent tearing during birth:

  • Using a warm compress during pushing is an evidence-based practice for preventing or reducing the severity of tearing
  • Perineal massage in the weeks leading up to birth is another evidence-based practice
  • Certain pushing positions can decrease your risk of tearing, including any supported kneeling position or side-lying position

Handling the pain

I shared that this was a fear I faced; it’s one every soon-to-be mom will at least think about. But, mama, you can do it! Whether you’re planning to get an epidural or hoping to keep it unmedicated, it’s important to realize that you’re going to have to manage some degree of labor pain. To that end, you’ll want to learn some ways to cope with it. That starts with asking questions. Learn what your medical and non-medical pain management options are. Find out what your birthplace has in terms of support (labor tubs, hydrotherapy showers, birthing balls, etc.) so that you know what you can expect.

Remember to practice your coping strategies before you’re in it! Too many moms make the mistake of trying out their breathing and relaxation techniques for the first time during labor. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon or enter a cooking competition without practicing first, you should try it out before the big event.

Lastly, make sure you’ve got a support team that’s also ready for the big day. For most women, your support person is your partner. Well, they need to be prepared too. Let them know your birth wishes and review lots of pain-coping strategies together so that they are able to suggest options and help you when you’re in it.

Things not going as planned

Trust me, I know how you feel. Things don’t always go as planned. This can involve the sudden need for an induction, an unplanned c-section, getting an epidural when you thought you didn’t want one or the need for Pitocin if you experience a stalled labor (just to name a few of many potential curveballs).

It’s true that your needs and circumstances can change in an instant. That’s just the reality of birth. But, what you can do, is focus on having a flexible mindset and get educated on all the possible outcomes. Know that, when all is said and done, what’s most important is your health and safety—and that of baby.

Understanding what could happen will make you feel empowered. You won’t feel like a passive participant if things change on a dime. Instead, you’ll be ready to face an unexpected challenge with a sense of confidence.

In these final weeks before your due date, normalize the fear you’re feeling, and know that there’s a lot you can do to help reduce anxiety and boost your confidence. Best of luck to you. I just know you’re going to rock this!

About the expert:

Liesel Teen, BSN, RN is the founder of Mommy Labor Nurse, a resource that teaches expecting parents what they need to know about pregnancy and birth, and helps them transition into parenthood through educational Instagram graphics and videos, informative articles, podcast episodes, online birth classes and more. Connect with Liesel over on Instagram @mommy.labornurse, on her website or over on the Mommy Labor Nurse podcast.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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