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The 80% and the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle

Did you know that birth is 80% mental and 20% physical? Sounds pretty odd because most of what we hear are the horror stories of the physical pain of birth. We rarely, if at all, hear about the mental strength it takes to bring a baby earthside.


"Your toughness is made up of equal parts persistence and experience. You don’t so much outrun your opponents as outlast and outsmart them, and the toughest opponent of all is the one inside your head." – Joe Henderson


I would say 90% of the moms I work with, start our discussion about pain management with, "I would love to do it naturally but I'm scared of the pain because I have a low pain tolerance". This is the part that I love getting to explain!! Birth is 80% mental and only 20% physical. You can be the toughest woman in the world, but if you aren't prepared mentally, that won't matter. Your birth will suffer. On the contrary, you might whimper and cry over the pain of a piercing (me!) but with months of mental preparation, you can turn around and birth a 10lb 8oz baby, unmedicated, with absolutely no fear of the intensity/pain (me!).


Birth is mental.



Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle.

In the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, two obstetricians were researching why their poorer and less educated demographic of women were experiencing less pain and less complications during birth, compared to the upper-class and more educated women. The two obstetricians came to the conclusion that the more fear a person has, the more pain they experience. This proved because the upper-class, more educated women had more "knowledge" of the experience of birth which caused more fear and anxiety, leading to more complications. They called this the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle. When we are fearful and anxious, it triggers our "fight or flight" response and our system floods with adrenalin. Our body overrides other bodily functions that are unnecessary to the "fight or flight" response like digestion or even giving birth. In the wild, if a zebra is laboring and a lion approaches, her adrenalin will kick in and her body will stop the process of giving birth so she can escape and find somewhere safe. This is true for humans as well. Our body will shut down and will not open up if it senses fear. With fear comes tension. Tension in the jaw, pelvic floor, legs and even decreased oxygen to the uterus. The tension causes more pain, which leads to more fear and anxiety, repeating the cycle.



How to overcome fear.

There are many ways you can prepare mentally for birth.

Here are my top 5 ways:

  1. Hire a doula. I know, "of course she'd say that, she's a doula" but ya'll, a doula is so beneficial in this area. Why do you think the evidence shows a decrease in surgical births, decrease in labor time, decrease in Pitocin use, decrease in epidural use AND happier birth outcomes?! It's because they are helping their clients prepare for birth. Prepare physically, prepare emotionally and prepare mentally. If you aren't educated and informed throughout the process, you will not feel mentally ready.

  2. Take a birth class. But not just any birth class! Avoid classes being taught by the hospital. Their information will be bias and tailored towards hospital policy and what is best for THEM not YOU. I recommend finding a local doula or childbirth educator that teaches them.

  3. Listen to podcasts. One of my favorite ways to prepare for birth mentally, is to listen to podcasts that share positive birth stories. There is something about listening to women tell their positive birth stories that really excite and empower you. I suggest Happy Homebirth for my home birth mamas and The Positive Birth Story Podcast for both in and out of hospital births.

  4. Say bye to the nay sayers. Ya'll, there are going to be "nay sayers" in your life. I know I have a few in my life. But it's what we do with the venom they spew that will either harm or heal us mentally. If you are planning a home birth and your mom is terrified and thinks it is reckless and dangerous, you need to set up a boundary and not talk to mom about your home birth. I know this sounds extreme, but any seeds of doubt are still seeds that can grow into something bigger and cause self-doubting when in labor. We love our mama but she might be more helpful somewhere else.

  5. Prayer/meditation. Where are my prayer people at? If that's you, girl, lean on it. Pray for comfort, pray for peace, pray for strength, pray for these things throughout your pregnancy. I always suggest to pray or meditate to your birth playlist. That way when you're in labor and you are listening to your playlist, you can be reminded of the times you spent purposely preparing for you birth.


I hope this brings comfort to the anxious heart that might be reading it. You are strong enough to do anything. I don't care if everyone in your circle doesn't believe you can, I do, and as long as you believe in yourself, you will do it. Lets take the focus off fear and anxiety and place it on preparing for your birth so you feel comfortable and confident to do anything.


Kick ass this week <3

Kinsey Drea, Birth Doula




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