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Two Ways Stress Can Affect Your Labour And How To Manage It

Author Kimberley Fernandez is a dual certified doula and childbirth educator in the GTA, and certified virtual sleep consultant. She has been working with families in their birth, postpartum and infant care journeys since 2006. You can find more learning content and free resources on her teaching portal "The Birthing Room"


Now let me be clear, I'm not your stereotypical Doula. Many believe that doulas are hippy dippy, woo woo flower children who will convince you to birth in a field or in the ocean surrounded by dolphins. And while yes, those doulas exist, they are just one point on the spectrum of who doulas are.

On the doula scale I hover just off centre, closer to the science, pragmatic end with just the right amount of woo to keep my doula membership card. So given this, I'm going to talk about two ways stress can affect your labour and how to manage it.

Starting Your Labour

You get that you are a mammal right? And that labour is a physiological function of your body. And this function is primarily affected by hormones, specifically oxytocin.

But did you know that stress hormones can also affect labour? As you approach the end of your pregnancy, you may be a little anxious or stressed. You may be thinking, 'Is my worked finished up so I can go on mat leave?' 'Is the baby's room finished?' 'Is the car seat installed correctly?' 'Am I prepared for all this?'

All this stress and worry can release stress hormones called catecholamines. And Oxytocin, the hormone that gets your uterus contracting (among other things) is suppressed by stress hormones. And less oxytocin means a labour that is slow to start, a longer labour and a labour needing to be augmented with Pitocin, a synthetic oxytocin.

This harkens back to our pre-historic life when stress came from predators trying to kill us and eat us. Back then we couldn't stop the sabertooth tiger from eating us because we needed a break to give birth. We had to run away or put up a fight. Fight or flight. That means labour would either not start or stop while we dealt with an immediate danger.

Now a days our stress comes from long commutes, dealing with awful people at work or our wifi being down. Sadly though our minds haven't adapted to categorize stress. It is all just stress and will manifest itself with stress hormones.

So What Can We Do?

Find ways to manage and release your stress.

  • Go for a walk with your favourite music playing

  • Use meditation apps for guided meditation daily

  • Watch a funny movie. This will release endorphins, another hormone that will block those stress hormones and allow your oxytocin to flow. Plus baby loves endorphins.

  • Start your maternity leave a little earlier, if possible, especially if you have a very stressful job.

During Labour

As your labour starts and progresses its entirely possible for your mind to slip into a place of fear and anxiety. It could be you are worried about how painful labour may get, or maybe you are worried labour will be really long, or if baby is doing okay during the labour.

Unfortunately, throughout our lives we've been shown in the media and on social media that birth is supposed to be painful and scary. This vision of birth we have in our minds will only amplify as labour progresses. Which again will release those stress hormones, stall our labour causing the care providers to use Pitocin to augment your labour. These Pitocin contractions can cause labour to be harder to manage and can cause fetal distress.

Free resources

So What Can We Do?

  • Take a prenatal class taught by a doula or childbirth educator. These classes are not designed to teach you how to be a good patient but to eliminate fear and teach you about all your options in birth. Empowering you to be the main decision maker in your birth.

  • Hire a doula. A virtual doula can work with you and your support people before and during labour to eliminate fear, offer suggestions for non-medical comfort measures which will get that oxytocin flowing. They can coach you through the process, eliminating the 'unknown' and answer all the questions you may have before, during and after labour.

"During a frantic call from a client, weeks before labour began, I was able to calm them down and explain what was happening to them. The husband later said "Your basically Crisis Management." Yes I am."

  • Utilize comforting touch during labour which will release endorphins as well as making your feel safe and protected by your support people

  • The use of water or hydrotherapy can help you relax your body, which can lessen the pain you are experiencing, which can help you minimize your fear and calm those stress hormones.

So what do you think you can do now to help lessen your stress? If you haven't thought about, I encourage you to do so.

You can also find more information about hiring me as your virtual doula by visiting my website. And check out my Freebie Library for more resources you will need for birth and postpartum.

I wish you the best in your pregnancy and birth!

P.S. Before You Go!!!

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