Fear may increase length of labor

July 2, 2012

THE QUESTION Might fear of childbirth contribute to a longer labor?

THIS STUDY involved 2,206 women who were pregnant with one child and had planned to have a vaginal birth. Based on their answers to questions about childbirth that they gave when they were 32 weeks pregnant, 165 women (about 8 percent) were classified as fearful. Those women spent more time in labor than did those who were not fearful: eight hours, on average, compared with 6 hours 28 minutes. Also, emergency Caesarean deliveries and births that involved the use of forceps or other instruments were more common among fearful women. Overall, 25 percent of women who feared childbirth delivered vaginally without intervention, compared with 44 percent of those who were not afraid.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Pregnant women. Worries related to childbirth generally focus on pain and how to cope with it. Medical experts say the pain varies from woman to woman and depends in part on a woman’s anatomy, the size and position of her baby and the strength of contractions as well as her emotional state and attitude.

CAVEATS Some data in the study came from the women’s responses on questionnaires.

FIND THIS STUDY June 27 online issue of BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (www.bjog.org).

LEARN MORE ABOUT childbirth pain at www.kidshealth.org (enter parents’ site, then search for “childbirth”) and www.acog.org (search for “pain relief”).

Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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