Does Being Afraid of Labor Make it Last Longer?

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK.

Getty ImagesBad news, pregnant ladies: All that obsessive reading of the "The Complicated Pregnancy" chapter of What to Expect When You're Expecting may be doing worse things to you than just giving you nightmares. A Norwegian study recently found that women who are afraid of childbirth end up with longer labors. Women who were reported "greatly afraid" of labor and delivery ended up, on average, with an extra hour and half of labor compared to less-afraid moms.

There are some research studies that have me scratching my head, but I have to say this one makes perfect sense to me. Having gone through labor and delivery five times - two with an epidural, two without any meds, and one half-and-half - I can tell you from experience that being afraid of the pain can actually create more of it. It's that half-and-half delivery that really convinced me.

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My first two deliveries were relatively short and fast, so for baby #3 I decided to skip the medication route. I figured why bother with the epidural if it was only going to take a few hours? How much pain can you really have in such a short time span? I'd soon learn the answer: excruciating, screaming-and-swearing, blackout-worthy pain. Going into that delivery, I didn't have much knowledge of the whole process - with my first two I had been so numbed that I didn't even know I was having a contraction until I saw the spike on the monitor, and they had to tell me when to push.

So when the pain hit with #3, it hit hard. And I was literally scared out of my mind. I say literally because I lost all higher brain function and reverted to some form of primal, instinctual survival mode. I was in an insane amount of pain, and when the nurse told me I was only dilated to a five, I lost it. There was no way I could endure this kind of pain - and worse! - for twice as long. I begged for the medicine, but was told I was too far along to get it.

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And then I hit transition. I have never in my life experienced anything like that. I was 100 percent sure I was dying. I was so panicked I convinced my husband I was dying too. In fact I became so hysterical that my labor stalled. My cervix was stuck at a nine. Finally the doctor okay'ed the epidural. The second the pain meds kicked in, my body relaxed, and my son popped right out - despite being nearly 11 pounds. It was apparent to everyone there that I was so terrified of more pain I'd tensed up so much I was working against my body's natural labor rhythms. Once the pain was gone, the fear was gone, and the baby was born. (We won't talk about how I ended up going totally natural for the last two; that's a whole other story!)

Our minds are powerful tools, and fear is a very powerful emotion. I think the best thing we can learn from this study is how important it is to educate women while they are still pregnant - not just about the labor and delivery process but also about the feelings that go with it. It's especially critical for women who are already in tense situations such as teenagers, women with pregnancy complications, women with mental health issues, or those who live in poverty.

What's your experience with labor and delivery? Does this study surprise you at all?

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