4. The Cycle of Fear ->>

#5 – The Stress Response

Test your knowledge! Take the quiz at the bottom of this page. Got questions? Write them in the comment box and I’ll answer them!

What is the “cycle of fear”? How does it impact childbirth? How can you “break” the cycle of not only anticipated “pain” and fear, but break it during labor?

A cycle is usually a continuous  “loop” of something  reoccuring consistently.

The Cycle of Fear creates a loop: Increased fear leads to increased tension (physically and emotionally) which leads to increaed pain. This can magnify if not interrupted.

When it comes to anticipating labor and birth, emotions of fear and anxiety about it can spiral out of control. With increasing obsessive thoughts of fear and worry about birth,  It can set into motion an emotional negative spin which can lead to a perceived increase in physical pain.

Many women, maybe even you, fear childbirth. Where does the fear come from?

Part of it comes from historical events and records of poor maternal outcomes in the 19th Century and earlier in the USA. Part of it is rooted in religious teachings, myths, and antiquated rituals surrounding birth. Through the years our American culture has matured “psychologically” and these social “fears” are outdated because of current science, research, and technology.

Yet, fear about childbirth still exists today. However, much of it comes from hearing negative, emotionally charged birth experiences of other women.  It also comes from distorted, unrealistic, sensationalized hollywood movies about childbirth, and highly editied birthing shows on TV.

  Negative birth stories,  the media, and how we use language to communicate the birthing experience all contribute to the “cycle of fear”

Childbirth is not an illness.

The word “pain” seams to be the universal word used to communicate any kind of discomfort. Yet, there are many forms of pain- a burn, ache, shsarp, dull, cramp, etc. The word pain is associated with illness and something really bad – death.  “Pain” is a totally, personal, and subjective experience. Labor and the birth process is the same – totally subjective.

Even the word “labor”calls up images of pain and increases anxiety about it.  Any dictionary will define labor as ” physical or mental exertion, to work hard, work, to move slowly with difficulty, to suffer under a false idea”. Geez, how could anyone get excited about childbirth with terms like that!

The expectation of fear and “pain” is reinforced by language used by you, families, friends, co-workers, books, TV, magazines, nurses, and doctors.  Language is a powerful tool.  It has suggestive abilities too. If you hear negative verbage about anything enough times, you’ll start to believe it!  If you change the words you use, it may be one, of several ways to decrease the fear.

So, here’s a new definition of “labor” for the childbearing woman:

Labor is exhilarating, a normal physical process for a woman’s body, limited physical exertion, intermittent waves of physical pressure mixed with alternating waves of normal states of calm, discomfort is individual” That sounds better.

Many women experience discomfort from labor contractions. If I used the word “pain” continuously here, that’s what would be engrained in your mind – how “painful” childbirth is.

However, there are many women who have described their labors as “not bad at all”!  They have described their discomfort as an intense menstrual cramp, tolerable “pressure”, or even “gas”!

What made their experience so different and more tolerable than other women who were very uncomfortable?  There have been many women who have experienced calm, satisfying births of their babies  where she was not screaming (as is seen too often on T.V.).  We tend to believe what we see on T.V.   and it must be true,  right” ? Nope. The media keeps the fear of childbirth very much alive. Why ? Ratings. Sensationalism sells.

There have been many births where women are in control,  tuned in to their bodies, amazed by their innate abilities to birth, and even more so when the birthing process is achieved without medication

The difference is a conscious decision made by the woman that she can do this! She can birth her baby by using the “tools” to help her prepare for the birthing experience – labor contractions.

Emotional and physical support is vital. Just hearing the word’s “I love you” from your man, or partner, or words of encouragement during labor can boost your confidence in your ability to overcome your fears.

Also, we all have different levels of “pain” tolerance! Not every woman experiences the same intensity of labor contractions and communicates them differently based on individual “perceptions” of “pain”. So having a good idea how you respond to pain, may give you some insight as to how to prepare for any discomfort you experience.

The important thing to remember is to calm your fears, because when you are afraid, you release stress hormones  and your muscles tense (the uterus is a muscle) which will make the birthing process more challenging.  As a result yur interpretation of discomfort sensations will increase!  We don’t want that!


How to break the cycle of fear–>tension–>pain






  •  Replace fear with knowledge and proactive preparation. Having an idea of what is going to happen during your birth experience helps decrease the fear of the unknown.  You may not know how long your birthing experience will be(or how short), but you’ll know where you’ll be, and pretty much what to expect.  The mechanics of birth are universal! But, when it will happen, how long and how, are unique only to you.  Your doctor doesn’t even know for sure.  Understanding the birth process will also help because you will know and understand what is happening to you physically and you’ll be able to anticipate physical sensations (contractions).
  • Replace tension with relaxation. If you read the information on Fight or Flight – now called the Stress Response – you’ll understand this part better. If not take a peek.  Being able to relax, calm, and allow your body to birth your baby is an essential part of the birthing  process.  The female body is physically designed to carry and birth a baby.  This means there is a whole physiological “blueprint” installed in your body ready to be activated when the time is right. The process of birth involves an involuntary body system, meaning  labor begins on it’s OWN (another source of fear because you can’t control when, where, or how it’s is going to happen).  Stress causes muscle tension and the uterus is a muscle, it will also tense.
  • Support System. When you have great support from people you love, sometimes you feel like you could walk on hot coals! Only kidding. But really, when people believe in you, you believe more in your own abilities.  When you have positive support, you usually succeed.
  • Stop feeding your fear! This is really important because if you watch T.V. shows about women in labor you have to STOP it.  How do T.V. shows stay on air?  How do they build ratings? Drama and sensationalism. Most births in the real world are boring because there’s no drama.  Some books are even anxiety producing, so be careful what you’re reading too. If it starts to bother you by putting fearful thoughts in your mind – stop reading it! Read about you baby’s development, parenting, how to stay romantically connected to your partner while in the midst of parenting. And, there are more positive birth stories than negative ones. Women have to start speaking out and share their positive stories so you have the benefit of hearing and learning from them.
  • Replace discomfort with mind/body relaxation methods. The brain can’t focus on two things at the same time.  The idea of “multitasking” is a myth. You can either do a bunch of things with less concentration less than favorable outcomes, or do one thing really, really good with focused attention.  Current research proves focusing on relaxation decreases intensity of pain . When you focus on something else rather than how uncomfortable you are the perception of what you’re feeling physically will change. However, the more you focus on how uncomfortable you are the greater the discomfort – and it can magnify by the amount of attention you give it.
  • Go with the flow. Many times the attitude of “going with whatever happens” is a tough concept for some people to accept.  It means throwing out the clock and letting nature perform her best on her own time.  Birth is a mystery of life.  It will unfold in its own time.  Trying to control it, rush it, predict it, or even force it (inductions), will only cause frustration and anxiety for you and your partner.. Baby and the birth process needs time and lots of good’ole patience.

You can break the cycle of pain and fear through education and applying what you learn here on a daily basic.

Lesly 🙂

5 -The Stress Response

Now, test your knowledge! Take the quiz below. Got Questions? Write them in the comment box and I’ll answer them!


There are 4 questions.

What are some sources that contribute to fear about childbirth?

How can you decrease your own fears and worries about childbirth?

Is "labor pain" the SAME for all women?

What are some factors that can contribute to INCREASING  "pain"?


8 Responses

  1. Peggy says:

    Wonderful informative blog posts, Lesley! You rock!


  2. tia says:

    I don’t fear the pain much. I have had a baby before. I did have the pain the first time. BUt it was not has bad has i thought it would be. My fear had to do with the dreams that goes with the pregnancy. The health and look of the babies. Does the fear that goes with that go away?

  1. March 8, 2012

    […] never forget the mom I was taking  care of who was screaming through her labor. Pure fear. What calmed her down immediately was slow, deep breathing. I always think of her every now and […]

  2. September 22, 2012

    […] The greatest fear are the labor contractions, right? And the “pain” you may experience. But learning mental relaxation skills like hypnosis, meditation, and slow deep breathing, can help you greatly Your emotional state is 70% of labor. The good news is THAT’S something you can control! […]

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