How can midwives help women who have a fear of birth ?
If you meet pre labour I cannot over emphasise the benefits of using a doula service – doulas connect with women and support them through pregnancy , labour, birth and the postnatal period – I value all doulas and I have learnt so much from them .
Sit beside the woman at her level , listen carefully with your eyes and your ears . Demonstrate that you accept her fear as real and tangible and do not dismiss it by saying “you’ll be fine, lots of women give birth”. When as a midwife you first meet a woman, it’s crucial for you to have open body language which means arms by your side , warmth in your eyes, and you should display love and truth . Ask the woman if she wants you to hold her hand , this is a connective proces and a simple yet effective of cementing your relationship with her .
Help the woman to gain a rapport with you and confidence in herself by demystifying some of her previous experiences eg the gas and air didn’t help last time , I tore badly last time , I failed at breastfeeding last time. this time it just might . Be a source of knowledge and light for her . Explain that you are with her that you love your job and you will be her advocate throughout .
Explain the process of pain in the cervix and why relaxation can help , use mindfulness links for her to listen to and actively take part in them with the woman and her partner to show your commitment to them both . Teach her that an internal examination is about choice, consent and that she is the one in control with an ability to stop the process at any time . Also explain her human rights matte in labour. . The woman may decide against internal examinations – be with her in this decision.
Hold the woman’s hand when she is talking to you , this will let her see that you are kind and that you want to help her . Say things like ” I can see vulnerability in your eyes , tell me how I can help you , I am with you” “how are you feeling at this present moment? ”
Ask what her fears are – one woman I met recently was so scared , she thought that she might die in labour – this may seem irrational but it’s acutely important to know that these expressions of fear are very real to the woman herself .
Don’t talk about feeding intention , sometimes a woman’s confidence and belief in herself are knocked for six when there have been difficulties with breastfeeding and this can manifest as fear in labour . Discuss instead why her newborn craves for skin to skin with her at birth and that these physiologically magical hours are also to help her feel validated once she has given birth .
Help the woman to focus on the moment not what might happen this is mindfulness in labour.
If a woman has had a straightforward birth before , her perception of it is what matters not what the notes say or the fact that it appears to have gone smoothly.
Try your best to stay in the room most of the time , even use the ensuite in the room yourself once you have asked her permission to do so . Your aim is to to reduce her anxiety and fear of being left by the midwife .
Handover information to the team on shift about the woman and her fear of birth so that staff enter the room peacefully and introduce themselves . If someone enters the room and doesn’t introduce themselves, do it for them.
Ensure that the partners voice is heard and that they see you are trying to help by using open questions . Learn what they do , how they met and see their love for one another .
Don’t push the woman to have stronger analgesia , the key is give information. It’s crucial to give full explanation of all analgesia and their effects not only on the woman but on the baby and its ability to feed after birth . The pain is the woman’s pain and she must feel heard regarding her analgesic choices.
Never underestimate the value of finding a midwife that knows the woman and also suggest aromatherapy. Frankincense is wonderful scent that reduces anxiety and if used in combination with other scents has a calming pain relieving quality .
Keep the room darker and ask staff to be respectful by not entering the sacred birth room – interruptions increase adrenalin response which blocks the production of oxytocin and if her partner can get on the bed too this helps the woman to feel safe and loved .
Explain that you will not talk loudly during the birth and also try not to leave the woman afterwards , complete all notes in the room . Sometimes the most vulnerable time for a new mother is immediately after her child is born . Staying with her to help with positioning and handling of her baby will serve to strengthen her own belief in herself .
Avoid using terms such as “good girl” use the woman’s name to speak to her so that a sense of trust is built upon .
Explain why prolonged skin to skin contact will help the woman after the birth , it is revalidating
If you think she might need your help with a shower or bath that’s fine – ancient cultures have washing rituals and cleansing is sometimes quite cathartic for a postnatal woman plus you are showing that you care about her and reaffirming that human kindness makes a difference to someone’s experience .
It’s important to be aware of fear of birth and how it manifests in women sometimes it’s difficult to recognise in the antenatal period and might not be disclosed until labour . Women with a fear of birth must’ve given time , feel listened to and feel supported .
Whichever way the birth takes place stay with the woman , and be a constant for her .
Read as many articles as you can about fear of birth let women know that you understand , follow @FearOfBirth , Yana Richens is a consultant midwife at University College Hospitals London NHS Trust who has just submitted her PhD on fear of birth , she has extensive knowledge and experience . Also Kathryn Gutteridge aka @Sanctummid who is a consultant midwife at Birmingham Women’s who recently co- hosted a tweet chat on the @WeMidwives platform together with @TheLovelyMaeve Maeve O’Connell (a senior Irish Midwife who has also submitted her PhD) . The tweet chat discussed the subject of Tocophobia .
Lastly try to write a birth story for the woman from her newborn . When a woman sees words on paper that reflect how she gave birth and her newborns belief in her the effect is indescribable . This will pass into the next generation and you will be affirming birth to many others who read the letter. Never underestimate the effect that your actions , inactions or displays of love , kindness and compassion will have on a woman and her family , they will unknowingly to you. Quite simply your support kindness and compassion will last much longer than a lifetime.
Thankyou for reading and thank you to wonderful Claire Harrison midwife and friend for believing in me and inspiring me to write this piece .
Love from Jenny 💛❤️💛XXXX