Fear-Tension-Pain Syndrome, De-bunked!


So as a first-time-mom preparing for your birth, I’m sure either one of two things are happening in your life right now. You’re either A) freaked right out by stories that people are telling you about the “worst pain you’ll ever experience everrrrr” or B) so annoyed with everyone telling you “I just did this and it totally helped me in labour. You should do it to” (insert pain coping method or type of drug here). Needless to say, there are a lot of ideas of birth that FTM’s have before they actually get to experience any of it. What many don’t realize is these ideas are shaping how your birth will go down!

There’s a crazy, yet accurate theory that a lot of us Edmonton birth doulas refer to when helping a new mom and her partner prepare for the birth. It’s called Pain-Tension-Fear Syndrome, and it was first adopted by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read who was an advocate of natural childbirth. This syndrome, or cycle as many of us explain it, has the power to lengthen and even stall out your labour, as well as be a trigger for a cascade of interventions that wouldn’t be necessary had the birthing woman been aware of her fear. Here’s the cycle explained, followed by how to avoid it:


The cycle starts out with fear, and fear surfaces for a multitude of reasons. As I mentioned before, in our day and age we hear stuff… scary stuff. Some of our friends are elaborate story-tellers who can make birth sound like something out of a gruesome horror movie. We also tend to rely on Dr. Google when it comes to educating ourselves, but let me tell you – Google is the WORST when it comes to childbirth education. There is sooooooo much false or dated info on the world wide web. Perhaps you are even someone who lacks confidence in her body, or who truly doesn’t think she is capable of birthing a human being. It’s not ridiculous and it’s more common  than you’d think! For whatever reason, fear is often instilled in our minds before we head down the journey of childbirth and this is where the unfortunate cycle begins.


Now once fear commences, and you throw in contractions, your body naturally tends to tense… and so does your mind. It’s easy to envision how your body would tense up during a scary situation, just think about the last time you were in a vehicle and almost hit something (if that’s something that’s never happened to you, I envy your driving skills). I don’t know about you, but for myself I personally cramp up like crazy after one of those close-calls and I think many people can agree that our body experiences the aftermath after a fearful situation. What a lot of people don’t know is that fear actually causes tension in your mind as well. This tension effects how the hypothalamus (area in the brain) creates or reduces stress hormones. So fear creates tension inside and out.


Then comes the worst part: the pain. Oh the pain! The pain is derived from the tension we just spoke about actually creating barriers in the natural birth process. Particularly, this is done by preventing dilation and preventing the body from producing endorphins which are our body’s natural pain-coping hormones. This causes pain in the form of more intense contractions, or erratic contractions as your body attempts to keep your labour moving along. Inevitably, you can’t go on without a nice cycle of hormones, so your labour will stall out and the pain along with the ever-lasting life of birth will cause more fear.

So how can you change this?

Dick-Read suggests three things to combat this never-ending cycle before it’s too late. First is to educate yourself, and I mean FOR REAL, not the search engine kind. If you’re in Edmonton, check out my childbirth education classes! If not, find someone local who is trained and can teach you what it actually is like being in labour. Not just one person’s perception, especially if that person painted you a totally out-of-this-world picture of what it is like. Every single woman and every single birth is different, and you owe it to yourself to enter your journey into motherhood confident with no trauma. Second, daily exercise is super important but I’m not talking about going full-out at the gym. A daily brisk, 30 minute walk, swim at a local pool or prenatal yoga class is beautiful in loosening up and balancing your body, which will in turn prepare you for a more simple labour. You’ll also need the endurance, because birth can be a marathon – train for this particular race! Finally, find someone to be an outside support person at your birth. Birth doulas are THE BEST for this task, but if hiring a doula is not in your budget, talk to a trusted family member or friend. Someone to support both you and your partner, someone who can be an outside point-of-view and who can let you know that you are a strong, powerful birthing person. Support is so important, and you can not rely on your care provider for this as they have the actual job of bringing your child into this world to worry about!

I wish for all of you reading this a life full of fearless births. Trust your body, you were made for this!


One thought on “Fear-Tension-Pain Syndrome, De-bunked!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: