The Fear Free Childbirth podcast is for parents-to-be who want a positive and fear-free birth experience. Many pregnant women credit the podcast with helping them have a positive birth.
The show is a mix of real life positive birth stories, birthing experts sharing their wisdom and Alexia sharing how to get into a positive birthing mindset, including techniques for releasing fears.
Alexia is a therapeutic coach, speaker, trainer and author of the book “Fearless Birthing: Clear Your Fears For a Positive Birth”. The podcast, which began as a maternity leave side project, is now an essential resource for women with a fear of birth with tens of thousands of expectant mamas now listening to Alexia’s podcast each month to lose The Fear and prepare for birth.
It all started when Alexia experienced her first miscarriage and felt relief; she knew something was amiss. She had tokophobia, the extreme fear of pregnancy and birth, which is pretty terrifying. Alexia used her superpowers to overcome it and have two amazing births, and she now helps other women all around the world to do the same from her home in the middle of England.
Fear Free Childbirth is the online destination for women seeking to take the fear out of birth with fear-clearance meditations, online fear-clearance courses and programs for overcoming tokophobia. Find out more at FearFreeChildbirth.com and Fearless-Birthing.com
Anxiety in pregnancy
Anxiety in pregnancy is currently estimated to affect around 15% of women. Through my work in supporting women in preparing for birth and pregnancy, anxiety is something that I see a lot and, dare I say, I think the numbers are probably higher.
When women are feeling fearful around aspects of their pregnancy or birth it can trigger feelings of anxiety, but these feelings are known to fluctuate through pregnancy. Anxiety in pregnancy has been shown to peak in both the first and the third trimester (1).
How anxiety in pregnancy affects birth outcomes
From the evidence available (2) we know that pregnancy anxiety not only affects pregnant women’s health but also has an impact on labour outcomes. Anxiety in pregnancy can affect the likelihood of things such as
low birth weight
When you combine these potential outcomes with those that may arise as a result of fear, it’s clear that helping women to deal with fear and anxiety in pregnancy needs to be an important focus if we’re to improve birth outcomes for women.
I’ve been supporting women in overcoming their fear for many years now, particularly those with tokophobia, and I’ve enjoyed some incredible success rates. Success rates that are apparently impossible.
I was once told off on Twitter by a midwife specialising in tokophobia for suggesting that it’s possible to overcome tokophobia. “… [I] shouldn’t raise women’s hopes like that because they can’t. They just end up having c-sections.”. That may well be the case, but a positive c-section birth experience that is empowering for the woman is a world apart from the c-section that the woman dreads and feels anxious and terrified throughout.
That’s when I realised that I needed to get some evidence behind my Fearless Birthing method. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to get birth professionals and healthcare providers to take my work seriously. And that in turn would limit the women able to benefit from the success I’m achieving reducing strong fears and anxieties.
So, that’s what I set out to do.
Collaborating with the University of Nottingham
I joined forces with the University of Nottingham Psychology Department to explore the possibility of collaborating on a research project to evaluate my Fearless Birthing method.
This is when I first met Dr. Megan Barnard. Dr. Barnard specialises in anxiety and so exploring anxiety in pregnancy was a good fit for her area of research. So we set out to design a study that would enable us to answer the question: can women reduce their anxieties and fears during pregnancy using a self-paced online programme?
Can we reduce anxiety in pregnancy?
After many iterations and submissions to the Ethics Board, we got the green light. So I’m delighted to say that there is currently a study underway which aims to evaluate the effectiveness of the Fearless Birthing method in helping women to reduce their anxiety and fear during pregnancy.
Given, Dr. Barnard’s expertise in anxiety, I thought it would be a great idea for us to have a conversation about anxiety in pregnancy so that we could all learn more about anxiety. But even more of a reason is this; Dr. Barnard is now currently pregnant. When we started working together, her interest in our work was purely professional. Now that she is experiencing some of the anxieties that we are researching, she has a unique insight into our project which I just wanted to ask her about.
A conversation with Dr. Megan Barnard
One thing that stood out for me from our conversation was that Dr. Barnard was saying that anxiety could strike anyone during pregnancy; you don’t already need to be someone who suffers from it to be affected by it during pregnancy.
Thomas Verny, Father of Prenatal Psychology
Prenatal psychology is an area of psychology that looks at the psychological changes that women go through from conception to postpartum. If you're going to better understand your fears and anxieties during pregnancy then I think understanding prenatal psychology is pretty crucial.
The journey to motherhood is one of massive change for a woman and is often accompanied by fear, insecurity, and stress. There is so much that could go wrong: preterm birth, an especially traumatic birth, problems breastfeeding, problems bonding with the baby, miscarriage, problems conceiving… gosh the list goes on!
How prenatal psychology can help
But mamas-to-be can handle their fears by drawing on ideas from prenatal psychology. Prenatal psychology can give you psychological resources for whatever may come your way: grief after a miscarriage, complicated parenting issues, bonding with their child, etc.
For me, the biggest thing I took away from prenatal psychology was getting to grips with the idea that I could consider my unborn baby as a human being from my third trimester. This represented quite a shift in my thinking and my approach to pregnancy. Once you accept that you're carrying another human being who is able to listen, feel and hear around with you while your pregnant, then it invites some changes to your behaviour.
"By the end of the second trimester, the unborn child is a sensing, feeling and sensible (and remembering) human being." Thomas Verny
During our chat I put these questions to Thomas;
What should a mother focus on during her pregnancy to improve the likelihood of a positive birth outcome?
What can a mother do during pregnancy to nurture the baby?
Can babies understand what their mothers are thinking when pregnant?
Do babies pick up on the emotional journey of the mother during pregnancy?
What are some causes of tokophobia [the extreme fear of pregnancy/birth]?
Does the type of birth we have - vaginal unassisted, forceps, c-section etc - have any psychological impact on us?
As you can see from these questions, they have the potential to reveal some fascinating answers, and Thomas doesn't disappoint. I was in heaven!
Thomas starts by sharing some key factors that pregnant women should focus on during pregnancy to improve the likelihood of a positive birth outcome. These include;
A desire for a child
Relationship with her partner
Relationship with one’s own mother
Your own birth
Some people might be surprised at these because they are not things we tend to see in the typical birth prep lists alongside the more expected items like nutrition exercise or birth education. Thomas shares some interesting perspectives that are definite food for thought.
We chat about the importance of tuning into our babies and how best to do that and Thomas shares some ways that mamas-to-be can nurture baby during pregnancy. We also discuss fertility and how stress affects fertility.
How our birth type affects our thinking
The bit that I think you'll love though is what he has to say about our birth type, and what kind of mental and emotional patterns they can lay in place. Things like;
Forceps birth - Pain in the neck is a common theme for them. At times of stress, they will likely have pain in the head or shoulders.
C-section birth - Common thoughts will include "I can’t make it on my own", "If I’m in a tight place, people will come to my rescue"
Breech birth - They are the most hard headed of people "It's my way or the highway". They don't want to conform.
So, as you can see, this really is a fascinating chat and one that I think could really shift your perspective of your pregnancy journey.
7 signs of a woman with tokophobia
How to tell if you know a woman with tokophobia
Tokophobia is the extreme fear of pregnancy and birth. It’s not very well known and yet it can affect a lot of women. This extreme or pathological fear of birth is estimated to affect between 4 and 43% of women. 14% is an accepted estimate. So you see, a lot more common than you might think.
Sadly, many women with tokophobia avoid pregnancy despite being desperate to be mothers. But that doesn’t mean you won’t come across it.
Some women only realise they have tokophobia once they’re pregnant.
Up until that point, they might feel that “I’m just not maternal” or “I don’t like kids” which is something you hear a lot. However, both of these are typical comments made by women with tokophobia. It is simply their fear speaking.
Of course, there are also many women who simply don’t want kids who say these things. But it’s possible that when a woman says she doesn’t want kids that her fear is clouding her judgement, or that her true feelings are buried beneath the fear. Once she has overcome her tokophobia, she may very well change her mind. I’ve seen this a lot with the women I’ve worked with.
In fact, it was something that I used to say all the time. I recently met up with some people who I’d not seen for ten years and both of them told me how they would never have imagined that I would have had kids; they thought I didn’t want any! Well, that changed once I’d overcome my fears.
Why it's important to know if a woman has tokophobia
It can be easy to shrug this phobia off as silly or irrational, but doing that is missing the point. Many women with tokophobia don’t see this fear as irrational. You can actually die in childbirth: that’s something worth fearing. Compare that to claustrophobia; being trapped in an enclosed space is not known to be fatal.
The fact is, a woman with tokophobia would love a bit of kindness and understanding about how she's feeling. Having tokophobia can feel incredibly isolating because people don't understand and are quick to judge. Here's one woman's experience of sharing how she felt;
I just explained that I suffer from tokophobia and I was looking for some positive encouragement, maybe some stories from people who had been through it and could tell me some positive things. What I got instead was the nastiest group of mean girls I've encountered in a very long time. Seriously, these women jumped all over me. The pitchforks immediately came out. It was seriously upsetting!
I hope that by sharing this, that you can better understand what they're experiencing. If you have a wife or partner is tokophobic then maybe this post will help to explain things that you may have observed in your relationship. If you have friends who you suspect might have tokophobia then maybe this post will help you to better understand them.
7 signs of women with tokophobia
Not all women with tokophobia will experience all of these, but if a handful of them are present, then it’s a pretty good sign.
1. They avoid conversations of babies, pregnancy and birth
It’s often assumed that women love nothing better than to talk babies, but this simply isn’t true. Women with tokophobia will tend to remain silent if there is a group conversation that touches on babies, pregnancy or birth. They might do this because they simply have nothing to say and they can’t relate to what’s being said.
But it could also be that they daren’t say anything because of the possible reaction from other women. Very often, women with tokophobia find that when they speak up about how they’re feeling, that other women do not understand or shrug off their feelings. They might feel judged or ashamed so they keep quiet.
2. They don’t want to hold a baby
The Maternal Brain, with Jodi Pawluski
Today's podcast is all about the maternal brain and the neuroscience of pregnancy, birth, postpartum and parenting.
A few months back I shared an article about the maternal brain on my Facebook page and it went a bit nuts. It's since been shared over 40 times which is unprecedented for my Facebook page. It also received tons of comments, many of which were saying how the article helped them to better understand what they were going through. So I knew I had to cover this topic on the podcast.
I reached out to the expert that was quoted in the article, Jodi Pawluski, and was thrilled when she agreed to come on the podcast to talk about all things maternal brain.
Jodi Pawluski is a perinatal mental health expert and Research Associate at the University of Rennes in France. Her research aims to promote maternal mental health: enhancing the health and well-being of both the mother and child. Her research focus is to determine the behavioral and neurobiological processes underlying maternal mental illness and use this information to improve mental health in women during the perinatal period. In other words, she knows a thing or two about the maternal brain!
The Maternal Brain
During our conversation, Jodi talks about
the changes that are happening to our brain during pregnancy and how it's an important evolution for becoming a new parent
how we have new brain circuitry coming online that provides us with the ability to tune into our infant by enabling us to experience a feeling of reward from our child and a feeling of attachment
changes to the mood and emotions during pregnancy
the role of the environment on the maternal brain aka "pregnancy brain"
how quickly a mother can tune into her infant
After half an hour of touching your baby's hand, you will recognise your baby's hand from touch alone.
We talk about whether this is a "thing". Some articles have stated that it's not a thing, so we talk about what it could be instead and why it might feel that it really IS a thing.
15% of women during pregnancy will have a high level of anxiety
We touch on the important topic of anxiety and depression during pregnancy and taking medication when pregnant.
And, we also cover the brain changes happening to dads.... there is so much in this conversation!
The Neurobiology of Postpartum Anxiety and Depression.
The adaptive human parental brain: implications for children's social development.
The Neglected Neurobiology of Maternal Anxiety and Depression
Why aren't we talking about maternal brain changes?
Pregnancy Body Changes
Worrying about pregnancy body changes is something most pregnant women worry about. Whether it's the expected changes in the shape of your body as pregnancy progresses, to the least expected changes that might happen as a result of birth complications - and everything in between! Pregnancy body changes are a huge source of worry for women which is why I wanted to talk about this on the podcast.
To help do that I’m going to be joined by Bianca and Natasha from Bebo Mia. They have a doula business and have been working with women for over 10 years so they’ve seen it all when it comes to women getting worried about pregnancy body changes.
We cover quite a few angles when it comes to pregnancy body changes, from plus size pregnancies, to being pregnant when fit and of course vaginal tearing.. and lots more.
Pregnancy Body Changes
The adjustment you need to go through in how you perceive your body once you’re pregnant is quite significant. Many women have worries when it comes to pregnancy body changes which mean they struggle with this adjustment. This is particularly so for women who have strong feelings around their body - whether that's love because they've spent a lot of effort being fit or whether they don't like their body.
Common worries and fears around pregnancy body changes include;
"why isn’t my pregnancy going like a “normal” pregnancy?" ..... whatever *that* is!
“I’m worried about gaining too much weight during my pregnancy"
Plus size pregnancy
We talk about BMI measurement and the obese categories. Yes, a BMI of 30 and above carries risks, but it’s simply an increased risk, not an absolute or guaranteed outcome. As with all risks, it's crucial to understand what the numbers are telling you. The important thing to bear in mind is that with plus size pregnancies, positive outcomes are all possible!
Did you know that a common misguided belief is that overweight women are not strong enough to birth their babies? And another is that their vagina will be too fat. Yes, you read that right.
A fat vagina!
Since when can you get a fat vagina?? How can a hole get fat? #crazytalk
We also talk about the importance of ditching the yo-yo dieting habit
The Bebo Mia ladies are clear to state that it's important for women to give themselves at least 6 weeks to recover. They encourage women to connect to their postpartum body rather than focus on trying to re-establish their pre-baby body.
Another common problem is that some women are too scared to gain weight during pregnancy, with some women working out too much because they’re worried about gaining more than 25 pounds.
Changes down below
No chat about pregnancy body changes would be complete without talking about vaginal tearing. I know! Vaginal tearing is a HUGE fear among pregnant women. And yet interestingly, when I speak to women about their birth stories, vaginal tearing rarely features as something they worry about during birth - with many not even noticing it happening when it does. This vagina talk also covers;
the husband stitch
the importance of pelvic work
This is a great episode that is made brilliant by my fabulous guests, who have also offered a discount on all products on their site - see below.
About bebo mia
bebo mia is a training & mentorship organization for women in the maternal health field, including pregnancy/birth professionals, childbirth educators & parenting specialists. They offer comprehensive skills, business support & community care through an innovative online structure that spans a global market.
Preparing for Motherhood, with Sophie Brigstocke
In today's podcast episode I'm honoured to be joined by Sophie Brigstocke. Sophie won Doula of the Year in 2017, so this is a real treat - my second Doula of the Year guest!
As well as being a doula, Sophie also runs Nurturing Birth where she trains doulas alongside her co-founder Florence Etienne-Jackson. Together they have trained over 3000 doulas, so she knows a thing or two about birth and supporting women as they approach motherhood.
It was really tricky to pick a title for today's podcast because we talked about so much. But it's all birthy and all very interesting!
Some of the things we talk about include;
Sophie's epic 10-day labour - YES you read that right... 10-day labour!
her ECV and her difficult birth experience
planning her subsequent VBAC
her elective emergency c-section
Preparing for motherhood and parenting
We talked a lot about how we can use pregnancy to prepare for motherhood. Often the focus of pregnancy is preparing for the birth, but preparing for motherhood is also important because there are things that can be done during pregnancy to lay the foundation.
Sophie shares with us that a lot of couples come unstuck with a new baby and they say they would have liked to have had help to prepare their relationship for the arrival of the baby. And yet, when classes were put on, no-one signed up. The benefit of hindsight, eh?
the case for ditching parenting books and tuning into your baby
why the mother is the expert on her baby
the importance of tuning into the mothering instinct
what women can do during pregnancy to prepare
why psychological preparation is important
maternal mental health
Let’s take the emphasis OFF what we need to BUY materialistically. Let’s think a lot more about what we need to invest in for our mental and emotional well-being.
Sophie tells us that "in terms of a good head space, preparing for the birth has a big impact. Your birth informs your postnatal period in a big way. I felt like my body had let me down. The positive feelings from having a good breastfeeding journey made such a difference”
We also talk about breastfeeding and touch on some common breastfeeding myths. And any birth conversation is not exactly complete unless oxytocin is mentioned! Sophie feels that "oxytocin isn’t talked about enough. It has an important role in early parenting too; it’s part of breastfeeding."
About Sophie Brigstocke
Sophie is a birth and postnatal doula, Doula Mentor at Doula UK, Breastfeeding Supporter and Baby Massage Teacher. She was awarded “Doula of the Year” at MaMa Conference, 2017.
Sophie started working with mums and babies in 2004 when she trained as a baby massage teacher with Peter Walker, something she regularly teaches with busy courses around SW London. She also trained as a Therapeutic Massage Practitioner at the London College of Massage, specialising in Pregnancy and Post-Natal treatments. She offers Closing the Bones postnatal massage and ceremony to new mothers, as well as babywearing support.
You track Sophie down at Nurturing Birth.
Webinar for Birth Workers
In today's episode, I announced that I'll be running a live webinar for birth workers. I've been getting lots of enquiries from birth workers who would like mt to share how I help women to prepare for a fearless birth. So I thought I'd run a webinar. If you'd like to join me on the webinar, then you can sign up here.
This podcast really helped to prepare me for birth. Before listening I was scared, but I feel like it helped me adopt a much more positive attitude. In the end I didn’t need any drugs or even gas and air when I had my baby and it was a very positive experience!
Not the best
Some good ideas in there but she spends so much time advertising her other business and trying to get you to sign up to her email list which gets very repetitive
Hand on my heart, this podcast changed the course of my life!
I'm eternally grateful to Alexia for the incredible work that she does, helping women bust their birth fears and normalising the experience of pregnancy. Through this podcast I discovered Alexia's Tokophobia Support course which allowed me overcome my extreme fear of birth in 3 weeks! As a result, I'm a happier, stronger, calmer and more resilient woman:)
Whether you're planning to get pregnant or are an expecting/new mum, you have to drink from this source of inspiration, enlightenment and wisdom!