How to conquer the fear of childbirth after a traumatic first birth

woman on bed

Childbirth can be an empowering, amazing, terrifying, exhilarating and (sometimes) a painful experience all wrapped up in one. For some, however, childbirth can be both physically and psychologically traumatising. In Australia, an estimated third of women describe their birth as traumatic, with up to one in ten going on to suffer from postpartum PTSD.

While some of these women opt out of having any further children entirely as a result of their experience, some would like to add to their family but are understandably terrified of the prospect of going through labour again. Thankfully, it is possible to conquer the fear of childbirth, says Anthea Thomas, a Faculty Member and trainer for the HypnoBirthing Institute, a birth education program that encourages you to harness the power of self-hypnosis for a positive birth experience.

Fight the fear

“We have such a strong fear based culture around birthing here in Australia, and the fear and anxiety of birthing is now so real, that there is now a medical term (Tokophobia) that has been given to [extreme] cases of it,” says the Clinical Hypnotherapist, who describes the above statistics as “tragic.” As the mum-of-two explains, overcoming our fear of childbirth is crucial to avoiding a traumatic birth, as fear throws our bodies into a state of fight or flight. “When we are in a state of fight and flight in birth, oxygen is directed away from our uterus and baby, and the oxygen deprived muscles work against each other.” This in turn causes pain, a distressed baby and increases the likelihood of needing or accepting medical interventions, explains Anthea, who runs HypnoBirthing Gold Coast.  

However, while we can all do our best to banish fear from the delivery suite, Anthea acknowledges that approaching birth positively following a previously traumatic experience requires extra support and preparation. “It isn’t enough these days to approach birth with a ‘hope for the best attitude’,” says the experienced Antenatal Educator, who thrives on helping women to rediscover their natural birthing instincts. “Pregnancy and the birth process have a profound impact on women, men and babies, and these impacts and imprints can last a lifetime, so taking steps to protect and enhance your experience will be invaluable.”

Here’s how:

Educate yourself

Instead of coveting the latest prams or cots, consider investing in independent antenatal education ahead of your birth. “Finding independent antenatal education that views birth in a positive manner and gives you the tools and information to birth on your terms will set you well on the path to a more positive birth,” says Anthea, who notes that HypnoBirthing specialises in educating parents and giving them the support and proven tools that allows them to approach birth confidently and informed, resulting in a much calmer, comfortable and positive birth, however they birth.

Choose your birth team and place carefully

Your choice of care provider and birth place will have a huge influence on your experience, so ensure you do your research to make sure who you have chosen is going to support your wishes. “When you know the type of birth you want, you will then be able to determine your best options of care to get that,” says Anthea, who advises asking other mums for recommendations. “If you want the best care and support, my recommendation would be to find a midwifery group practice in your area,” continues the Hypnobirth practitioner, adding that mothers that have a known midwife that supports them before, during and after birth (no matter where they birth) have much lower intervention rates, much better outcomes for mums and babies, and overall have a more positive birth. “When a woman feels safe and supported in birth, she can birth as nature intended, so surround yourself with the best support, as you and your baby’s wellbeing are worth it.”

Focus on the birth you want

Whether it’s someone else’s or even your own, try your best to stop listening to negative childbirth stories and instead focus on the sort of birth that you do want. “Spend time each day visualising the birth you want and use positive affirmations to saturate your mind and body with what is possible,” urges Anthea, who notes that HypnoBirthing mothers listen to recorded affirmations, relaxations as well as practicing visualisation techniques daily in preparation for birth. “It’s a powerful way to condition your mind and body to stay relaxed and positive for birth, and will change your birth outcome,” she continues. “You absolutely can have the positive and memorable birth you are dreaming of, so start dreaming it!”

Keep in control

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that a positive birth doesn’t necessarily have to be a natural birth – all that matters is that you feel in control of the outcome. “I have seen natural births where mothers have felt completely disrespected and controlled leaving them feeling devastated and completely deprived, but then I’ve seen parents that have found themselves needing a caesarean or interventions and feel on top of the world, and totally ecstatic about their experience as they were in control and ensured that the outcome was necessary,” says Anthea, who concludes “control, consent and confidence will always be at the forefront of how a couple feels about their experience.”

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