The 9 most common birth fears—and why you shouldn’t worry

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pregnant woman

You’ve been busy getting everything ready—adding items to your registry, decorating the nursery, daydreaming about your sweet baby—and then one day it hits you, Wait, this baby has to come out of me.

And the birth jitters start.

If you’re feeling nervous about your upcoming birth, you are not alone. As a midwife and new mama, I hear a lot about these fears. They are common to have.

Let’s address these birth fears one-by-one so you can feel better about your upcoming labor and delivery:

1. I'm going to be in so much pain

Hands down, pain is the most common fear women have as they approach their birth.

With reason of course—we hear A LOT of labor stories (especially when we’re pregnant), and they usually involve some explanation of “how badly it hurt.”

So let’s talk about it.

First, remember that every birth is different. Some people experience a great deal of pain, while others describe it more as an intense pressure. And there is even a thing called an orgasmic birth (they really exist), and they are exactly what you’re imagining right now.

Much of one’s experience with pain has to do with fear—if you can minimize your fear of birth, your pain will likely decrease.

If you find that you’re consumed with worry, go ahead and talk to a therapist about it—they might be able to help.

The other thing to remember is that the pain of birth is not like the pain of say, breaking a bone. For one thing, you get a rest in between contractions where you really don’t have any discomfort. And, unlike when you break a bone which is not supposed to happen, birth is a 100% natural, normal and AWESOME thing.

Mentally, it’s a little easier to take the pain when you know that nothing is actually wrong.

Finally, there are TONS of things you can do to cope with the pain—breathing techniques, movement, relaxation, hiring a doula, pain medications and more.

(Join Motherly’s Birth Class to learn about ALL of these methods!)

2. Will I tear?

We’re not going to sugar coat it—many women do experience some degree of tearing during birth. As the baby is being born, the perineum (the skin just outside the vagina) stretches to allow the baby to come out, and can sometimes tear.

It’s pretty common to be nervous about this, but here are some things to consider to help you feel better:

  • Not everyone tears
  • Few woman actually feel themselves tear—the nerves are pretty busy doing other things, so most women don’t even know they tore until their provider tells them after
  • Most tears are very minimal and require just a few stitches
  • While we’re talking about stitches—they can give you local anesthetic so you don’t feel them going in, and they dissolve, so no need to have them removed
  • If you tear, you’ll tear in just the right place to allow the baby a little extra room to be born—your body knows what it’s doing
  • Vaginas are really good at healing themselves, so recovery is usually pretty quick
  • Talk to your provider about their methods for reducing tearing

3. Will I poop?

It’s true, you may poop a little as you’re giving birth.

As the baby’s head is moving past the rectum (where poop is stored), it applies some pressure that causes some to come out. I know, the idea of this probably doesn’t thrill you.

But here’s why it’s really okay—for starters, it means that you are REALLY close to meeting your baby. And I promise you, your provider and nurses don’t care. Seriously. It is fairly common, and we barely even notice it. We’ll just wipe it away and be on to bigger things—like marveling at your amazingness and swooning over your darling baby!

4. Will I get to the hospital in time?

Those viral stories of women giving birth in their cars pop up every once in a while, but they are really rare (they go viral for a reason).

The average first time mom’s labor is about 16 hours long, though this can vary a lot. You’ll be communicating with your provider, and they will help you decide when to leave for the hospital.

Which brings us to our next fear...

5. How will I know if labor has started?

A lot of women worry about this. But we promise, you will know.

Check out our article here that talks about the first labor signs you might experience.

When these signs start, give your provider a call and they will help you decide when the best time to head to the hospital is.

Assuming everything is going well, the general rule of thumb is 4-1-1. You’re having contractions every 4 minutes, they are lasting for 1 minute each, and this has been going on for 1 hour.

6. I want an epidural—but I’m scared

Everyone approaches birth from a different starting point—some people know they want to go unmedicated, while others know they’ll need an epidural. And that’s okay. In fact, 61% of women choose to get epidurals.

A recent study of 80,000 births found that less than 3% of women who received epidurals had any reported problems, and only 0.19% had a severe post-epidural headache.

So, the risk of complication is there (as with all medical procedures), but it’s quite low.

7. Bleeding

Bleeding after giving birth is normal. After the baby is born, the uterus will contract a bit more to get help deliver the placenta, fluids and blood out (much like it does during a period).

Most women bleed for about six weeks after birth. In the beginning, it will be like a period, but within a few days it will decrease to a lighter flow, then turn pinkish and light, then yellow-ish, then white, then clear*.

There is a rare complication of bleeding too much after birth—the good news is it only happens about 3% of the time. Your doctor or midwife will be on high alert looking out for symptoms, and will act quickly should they need to.

*If you are ever bleeding heavily—filling a pad with blood in an hour or two—go to the ER right away.

8. Unexpected C-section

One out of three women in the United States will have a cesarean birth, so it’s understandable that this is on your mind. But remember that despite the large number, vaginal births are still more common.

Talk to your provider about their specific C-section rates, and see if you are comfortable with them. Other ways to reduce the chances of having a C-section include exercise during pregnancy, healthy weight gain, taking a childbirth class and having a doula.

That being said remember that there are C-sections that are unavoidable, and very necessary. Birth is beautiful no matter how it happens, and you are a warrior no matter what.

You can check out our article on C-sections to clear up some myths you may have heard. (And, we have an entire birth class on C-sections!)

9. Pushing

The idea of pushing a human being out of your body is pretty hard to wrap your mind around. I promise, you can do it.

In fact, many women say they enjoy the pushing part of labor the most, because they are really engaged with their body, and they are so close to meeting their baby!

Pushing a baby out is the same motion as pushing a bowel movement out—it’s true! See, you were an expert and didn’t even know it 😉.

Here’s the thing. It’s really natural to be nervous about birth. It is arguably the most intense thing we do as humans.

But we are really, REALLY good at it.

And, if scary things do happen, remember that you will be surrounded by a team of people who are there to help you and your baby.

You are giving birth with women all over the world, just like women have done for all of time.

Take a deep breath, understand just how incredible you are, and remember, you’ve got this.

Diana is Motherly’s Digital Education Editor. She is a midwife, pediatric nurse and founder ofGathered Birth. She loves all things birth, and is passionate about empowering women to trust themselves and embrace their inner rockstar. Diana lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and 3 amazing, goofy kids.


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