Releasing Fear and Control for a Shorter Labour

In this modern world, our busy minds find it hard to switch off.  We like to feel in control, and we like to plan everything.  Unfortunately, when it comes to birth, this doesn’t work.  Women today are making their births longer and more difficult for themselves, simply by not trusting the process of birth, and not relaxing.

Once labour begins, they often:

  • Time their contractions
  • Worry about what time to go to the hospital, often arriving far too early
  • Focus on the ‘pain’
  • Focus on the risks and dangers of giving birth

This ensures that labouring women remain very much in their thinking brain, often leading to a long drawn out birth.   By over analysing their labour, they maintain high levels of adrenaline and low levels of oxytocin, leading to slow dilation and exhaustion. They may eventually need to be “rescued” by the doctors, after discovering that their babies are “stuck” or “in-distress”, and an instrumental birth or a c-section becomes necessary, proving to them that they were right to be afraid of birth.

French Obstetrician Michel Odent who pioneered water birth in the late 70’s, has been speaking about the brain of a labouring woman for many years, describing the importance of shutting down the neocortex (the part of the brain that manages sight and hearing in mammals), and the need for it to be protected from any external stimuli when a woman is in labour. This will enable the primitive part of her brain (often called the reptilian brain) to release the hormones necessary for the birth process to succeed.

He has written many books and articles over the years, and has a helpful and informative website called In one of his articles he writes:- “Since humans are mammals these physiological considerations suggest that in order to give birth women must feel warm and secure, without feeling observed”.  

Midwife Tricia Anderson in 2002 wrote a fabulous example of this in her article called “Out of the laboratory: Back to the darkened room”.  She talks about the importance of the environment for labouring women.

It starts with a brilliant fictional story about cats, based on the fact that everyone knows that cats give birth really well when left alone to get on with it. It goes on to say that one day, as an experiment, some well meaning scientists looking to understand the secret of birthing cats success, invited families with labouring cats, to bring them in to their laboratories so that they could be studied.

What they didn’t expect was that the cats, when taken out of their quiet dark nest and put in to the brightly lit laboratory where they were cold, surrounded by strangers, feeling observed and able to hear other cats in labour, were unable to perform in the same way they did in their own quiet, dark, safe homes.

Their labours became erratic, often slowing down or stopping, which often lead to the kittens being born distressed, and perhaps even needing resuscitation.  The sad thing was, that the scientists failed to recognise that they were the cause of the problem, and that by bringing the cats in to their bright, noisy laboratories in the first place, was actually the reason that the cats were struggling to give birth to their kittens easily.

Tricia goes on to say:-

“If we revisit the basic physiology of birth and accept that it is hormone-driven, it becomes obvious why childbirth does not work well in ‘laboratory’ conditions”.

This article highlights the way that many of us choose to give birth, trusting and believing in the “medical model”, (see below) rather than the ability of our own bodies. Modern women are filled with fear, due to horror stories from friends and families who have had a negative experience.  We also have TV programmes like “One Born Every Minute” that show the very worst side of modern labour wards, with women each week being told they have “failed to progress” simply because they have been put in a poor position, and overstimulated by constant questions and various examinations.

There is now an official campaign led by Alexia Leachman, to try and encourage Channel 4 to portray a more balanced view of birth, in order to prevent the fear setting in before women have even conceived.

Alicia says:-

“Women deserve the truth about childbirth, not a version made for TV.  It is time for us to reclaim birth as a beautiful magical event”

So how do we stop women from over analysing and over thinking on one of the most important days of their lives?

Well in our experience as doulas, the best things to do in order to help make labour as short as possible is simple:-

REST – Forward leaning position – build a nest with cushions or a bean bag.

RELAX – All the muscles in your body between contractions/surges.

REFRESH – Throughout the labour it is important to keep up energy levels with healthy food/snacks and plenty of water – (remember to empty the bladder every couple of hrs).

RELEASE – Let go of fear and control and go with the flow.  Don’t analyse your labour, just trust in your body and believe that it knows what to do to get your baby out.


Your partner should:-

  • Stay quiet and avoid asking you questions
  • Remind you to breathe – if you forget
  • Keep the lights off or down – even at a hospital birth
  • Encourage you to keep going if you are having a wobble

The labouring woman should also state her preferences clearly to her care provider, perhaps typing them out in advance and stapling them to the front of her pregnancy notes.  Her points should be short and specific and easy to read, allowing any caregiver to identify quickly and easily what choices she and her partner have made.  This will prevent any lengthy discussions during labour, and will enable the partner to protect her wishes on her behalf.

Your birth experience can shape your whole future and that of your baby’s, so it is important to make it a positive one!


Below is an example of the two types of care offered to women today:-


Midwifery model of careMedical model of care
Birth is a normal event in a woman’s lifeBirth is a potentially pathological process
Birth is the work of the woman and her familyBirth is the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and other experts
The woman is a person experiencing a life-transforming eventThe woman is a patient
Shared decision-making between the woman and her caregivers“Professional” care that is authoritarian. (Doctor knows best)
Believes in integrity of birth, uses technology if appropriate and provenValues technology, often without proof that it improves birth outcome
Personalised care with some emotional supportDe-personalised care with no emotional support



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