If the thought of pushing a tiny human out of your vagina freaks you out just a bit, well, you’re definitely not alone. But know this: Harboring labor fear could make the dreaded delivery last even longer. In fact, Women who fear childbirth spend 1 hour and 32 minutes longer in labor than women who don’t, says a new European study.
See more: How to Have a Shorter Labor
A small amount of labor fear is completely natural. But some women feel more than just nerves when anticipating the big moment, and this can adversely affect their labor time. “We don’t know why this is, but we have two theories,” explains the study’s lead author, Samantha S. Adams, MD, a researcher at the Health Services Research Centre of Akershus University Hospital in Lorenskog, Norway. One theory involves increased amounts of stress hormone (epinephrine) in fearful women, which may weaken uterine contractility and prolong labor. The other? “Poor communication between the fearful woman and the obstetric staff, which can negatively affect the labor process,” says Adams.
How to ease labor fear
Happily, there are a few things moms-to-be can do to cope with labor fear. Consider the following:
Hire a doula or midwife.
Don’t go it alone. According to a new Cochrane Summaries report, research on more than 15,000 women found that those who received continuous labor support felt more competent and in control, were less likely to use pain medications, were more satisfied and had shorter labors. (Plus, their babies were less likely to have low five-minute Apgar scores.)
Support can be provided by your partner, mother, or friend. But the study found that support from someone who is experienced in labor assistance—such as a doula or midwife—was the most beneficial in easing labor fear.
See more: Should You Hire a Doula?
Share your fears before the birth.
Talk about your labor fear (and any other concerns) with your ob-gyn. She’ll suggest a private tour of the labor and delivery department, special childbirth classes or referral to a women’s health therapist. “We don’t want women to be fearful when giving birth,” says Thompson. “Talk to your ob-gyn so she can help manage your fears and improve how you’re feeling.”
See more: Five Childbirth Questions, Answered