5. Stress Response

#6 – Anatomy of Pain

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


Think back. Do you remember in high school biology class learning about the “Fight or Flight” response in animals and in human beings?

It was and still is a built-in physiological response to fear and danger needed for survival and or safety.

Today the term “fight or flight” is now recognized as the “stress Response”.

If there were a real threat of being in danger, or even a “perceived” threat or fear about something (real or imagined, even anticipated) , our bodies, hundreds of years ago, would automatically respond by confronting the situation , fighting the danger, or running from it for safety.

In the 21st Century though, the stresses of today are very, very different from those of thousands of yerars ago.  Yet our bodies still react physiologically to perceived threats, real, imagined, or anticipated.

Our bodies physically mirror our emotional state. It’s automatic and a natural, even a protective response – depending on the circumstance.  So, what happens in our bodies physiologically when we experience emotions of fear? For example, anxiety, anger, nervousness?

In times of danger or when feeling fearful, either real or imagined, the  stress response is automatically activated and hormones in the body including adrenaline, cortisol, and others, are released into the blood stream where they circulate and communicate to organs in the body to instantly react by releasing more glucose (glucose -sugar = energy) into the blood stream for ENERGY to respond as needed.

The hormones “shut down” nonessential organs, such as the stomach, bowel and bladder. Blood flow is increased to the heart, lungs, brain, and to muscle groups in the arms and legs so we can react to danger by fighting it or running from it.  Also, there is an increase in oxygen demand.  As we breath more rapidly, we get more oxygen circulated to the brain, heart, lungs, and muscle groups to react to danger more efficiently and quickly.

Sensations we may feel physically as a result are increased awareness of environment, pupil dilation, rapid heart rate and breathing, perspiration, at times temporary loss of bladder or bowel control, shaking, trembling, muscle tension, maybe  headache,nausea, and vomiting.

When  the fight or flight response is not appropriate for the situation, such as going on that much wanted job interview, adrenaline and other related hormones are triggered to respond as if you were indeed being threatened. 

Your body doesn’t care if the threat is real, imagined, or anticipated, it will still trigger a stress response in you body.

For our ancestors, the fight or flight response served a purpose!  The release of adrenaline was useful for hunting for food or protecting family and territory.

Today however, our American culture and society is way more complex compared to our ancestors.  Adrenaline release into our bodies today is constant because of how consistently stressed we are with modern day problems and stresses in our personal lives.  We are always on the go-go-go! Communication with others has gotten to the point where someone can call you using a cell phone while on the toilet!  Oh – pa-leeze!

We are rarely in a relaxed, quiet state of calm.  Today, in the 21st Century there is profound research stressing the benefits of relaxation, and the lack of it leading to illness. If we could take pills for instant calm we would, but we can’t.  Our bodies are constantly running on high.

Here’s the good news, just like the human body’s stress response can be riggered by “threats” real, imagined, or anticipated, it can also trigger the “Relaxation Response” through calming activities, positive emotions, and thoughts.

Now, how does the the  stress response influence the pregnant mom anticipating the birth of herr baby? LOTS!

First, the fear of birth – specifically “labor pain”produces a mindset of generalized fear and causes doubt in your abilities.

Remember, fear, real, imagined, or an anticipated event that makes you nervous, can trigger the stress response in our bodies easily and rapidly – and we’re usually NOT consciously aware of it.

For a pregnant woman, stress can cause pre-term labor, illness, hypertension, fearful thoughts during labor can contribute to tension and slow or halt the process of labor, and affect the baby as well.

The uterus is  considered a nonessential organ (meaning you can live without a uterus).  Therefore, blood flow will be shunted away from the uterus to the organs needed to respond swiftly.  Also, the uterus is a muscle and will tighten, just like other muscles in the body do.  As we experience “fear” and the release of stress hormones occur, oxygen needs increase to th rest of the body, not the uterus. Lack of oxygen to the uterus can increase uterine discomfort when contractions occur.

The body will be tense and ready to react. This creates a heightened sense of awareness and increased perception of sensations (pain).  The more uptight and anxious, the more tense, the more discomfort experienced.

The more Adrebalin (stress, anxieties) circulating in the body, the less Oxytocin – the hormone that causes contractions to generate. The more relaxed you are (yes, even during labor) the more Oxytocin, and the less Adrenalin.

Along with the joy of pregnancy and birth of a baby comes with it a host of hidden concerns or worries  that in themselves cause stress. These may contribute to anxieties carried throughout pregnancy into postpartum. The concern here is the potential for postpartum depression.

90% of all stress is self-induced caused by our own thoughts and thinking patterns.

These could be thoughts about being good parents, birthing abilities, finances, housing, daycare, health of baby and mother, labor pain, physical appearance being pregnant, support from family members, unresolved relationships, parenting issues, hearing other birth stories, changes in marriage, career, medical care, and partner support or lack of it, just to name a few and of course depending on your personal situation. If any of these stresses/anxieties can be resolved before baby’s delivery the more at ease you will be.

Since we usually can’t fight or run away from a threat physically, our emotions and BEHAVIOR will respond…

Suggestions for you and your partner to decrease stress:

  • Recognize that going to a hospital to give birth does not mean that you are ill. Hospitals can make couples very uncomfortable by all the technology surrounding them. We tend to associate words with places and experiences such as, “hospital bed” and “illness”, or “pain” and illness. Having a baby is a natural event! So, shift your thinking to “the experience I am about to have is normal, therefore, I can relax, trust myself, and accept the physical sensations I will have as a healthy, progressive sign that the birth of my child is nearing. I have chosen the hospital environment to facilitate the birth of my child.  Everything has been taken care of at home, I can relax now”, etc.
  • Go on a hospital tour. You want to free yourself from as much stress as possible so that you can concentrate on the birth experience. Change your thinking about any hospital equipment you may come in contact with. For example, Start viewing the hospital’s labor bed as a tool to use to change positions with! These labor beds are incredible! They were designed to come apart to assist the laboring woman during labor by adjusting parts of the bed to move up or down. Don’t see the bed, lay down on the bed, and stay in the bed on your back, as you would if you were really sick. You’re not!  Also learning where the Delivery Suite is, where to park your car, etc., will put your partner at ease too.  Remember, the more you know the more prepared and ready you’ll feel.
  • Go to a childbirth education class! You will learn a great deal about the birthing process, ways to stay in control, relax, learn about and understand the use of medications if needed.  Education and learning you have a say in your care alone helps to break the fight or flight syndrome by reducing stress.
  • Most important, learn and PRACTICE methods in relaxation and breathing so that when the time comes you will be able to call on them with ease, and do this not just when you have a baby, but apply them to your life in general. These are life skills in reducing stress that can be used over and over again, and can contribute to your total well-being throughout your life.

The stress response can be stopped.

But you have to consciously make it happen. You will definitely learn how here on Leslynotes 🙂

Lesly 🙂

#6 – Anatomy of Pain

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.

The "Stress Response" is the new term to describe:

What triggers the Stress Response?

What does stress during pregnancy and labor have the potential to do?

What actions can you take to reduce stress?


1 Response

  1. December 19, 2011

    […] last thing this mom needs to do during labor is worry, panic, about her husband! The stress response will be activated and potentially make her labor more […]

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