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Childbirth anxiety: virtual reality to the rescue

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Virtual reality relieves anxiety about giving birth.

How does virtual reality help to overcome the fear of childbirth?


Your pregnancy is reaching its end and with the date getting closer, the labour phase worries emerge. Experiencing fear about the arrival of the baby is natural, especially in cases of first experiences. However, there are therapeutic methods to alleviate stress and pain for women in labour. So how can we relieve childbirth anxiety? We’ll take a look at the origins of this primary fear, its consequences and, above all, the reasons that present virtual reality as a way of relieving it.


The origins of the fear of childbirth


Whether we have experienced it or not, childbirth carries the image of a painful ordeal. The stories of those around us sometimes convey traumatic memories that do not help to put things into perspective. This is especially true when the terms associated with it, such as forceps, vacuum, episiotomy or caesarean section, spread a negative impression.

When women learn their pregnancies, the thought of childbirth usually follows closely. Faced with this imaginary situation, dreading this moment is a legitimate emotion. Especially since 9 months pass before experiencing it, which leaves time to dwell on the most pessimistic scenarios.

The fear of giving birth can be defined as ancestral, it crosses generations and is passed on like wildfire. Although the risk of dying in childbirth has disappeared from our Western societies, this possibility has not yet disappeared from the collective unconscious. In front of this heritage, the fear of giving birth seems universal. However, it is not without consequences for the foetus and the mother organisms.


The physical and psychological consequences of prenatal stress


We would like to highlight the fact that prenatal stress is legitimate. The discussion concerns the consequences at stake in cases of high exposure. If the anxieties are recurrent and intensify over time, negative effects may occur. However, most of the time they do not have a serious impact on the infant, but attempts can be made to limit them.


The effects of childbirth stress on the pregnant woman


As mentioned in the beginning, it is not surprising to feel anxious about childbirth. However, high anxiety leads to a wide range of complications.

High levels of stress or its abrupt onset can lead to premature deliveries or, on the contrary, delay or even block the labour phase. These events occur, for example, as a result of traumatic shock, unfair dismissal, bereavement, family conflict, separation, etc. All these external factors disrupt the experience of women in labour.

When the stress becomes unbearable, obstetric complications can also arise, such as uterine contractions, tachycardia or high blood pressure.


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The consequences for the baby of anxiety about giving birth


Under the influence of the mother’s recurrent stress, the child’s psychological and physical development can be disturbed. This disturbance is generally characterised by :

  • eating disorders
  • sleep imbalances
  • attention difficulties; 
  • periods of hyperactivity;
  • anxiety manifestations.

Excess of cortisol, the key hormone in these periods of anxiety, is responsible for these dysfunctions. According to the study published in the academic journal Child Dev, it is able to cross the placental barrier and reach the foetus’ bloodstream.

Another study, conducted by researchers at Darmouth College, focused on the consequences for mothers with higher levels of stress hormone than others. The analysis involved 14 vertebrate species, including sheep, birds, snakes and humans. In the event of anxiety or chronic stress, the analyses show the production of a particular hormone: glucocorticoid. This hormone, present in all offspring exposed to maternal stress, is not without health effects. Indeed, it can promote anxiety, depression and cardiovascular disease in children.

Although the impact of prenatal anxiety on the mother and child exists, there are methods to channel it, whether it is through preparation for childbirth, prenatal yoga sessions, sophrology, hypnosis or virtual reality. The latter method has shown surprising effectiveness in calming women in labour.


How can virtual reality relieve childbirth anxiety?


Relieving stress during labour


Anxiety arises from the analysis of a worrying or uncomfortable situation. Thoughts tend to focus on a specific aspect and replay it over and over. During a work phase, many concerns absorb the mind. The feeling of fear is exacerbated and it is sometimes difficult to cope with it. Especially since the hospital environment is full of anxieties for many patients.

Virtual reality headsets combine several principles to offer deep relaxation. The projection of a realistic environment on one hand, but also music therapy or hypnosis techniques, leads to a state of cardiac coherence. The mind can then let go, relax and experience childbirth in a more serene way.


Pain reduction for women in labour


Virtual reality offers a refuge to concentrate on. By diverting her focus, the pain is reduced. Of course, the contractions do not disappear thanks to the device, but its analgesic and anxiolytic properties produce an additional comfort.

A study conducted by Frey D. P., Bauer M.E, Bell C. L., Low L. K., Hasset A.L., Cassidy R. B., Boyer K. D., Sharar S. R. testify about the benefits of this therapeutic technique. Indeed, these scientists analysed the effect of VR immersion on anxiety and pain in women in labour. The group equipped with virtual reality headsets showed a significant decrease in sensory, affective and cognitive pain, as well as anxiety.


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Virtual reality: a solution for a drug-free birth


There are many reasons for pregnant women to consider a physiological birth. To overcome pain without medication, therapeutic methods have proven to be effective.

Virtual reality provides pain relief since it helps to release tension. The pain of contractions is relieved by relaxation, thanks to the increased production of endorphins and oxytocins, which both facilitate childbirth. The mother-to-be remains conscious throughout the process and can even alternate between moments of immersion and break times.

The Healthy Mind device has been designed for accessible medical use. It adapts to the position thanks to a wireless headset, a real advantage during natural childbirth. In addition, hypnotic speeches developed by Dr Catherine Bernard, anaesthetist and hypnotherapist for 25 years, accompany the immersion. The sound atmosphere, specially composed for our environments, delivers a multi-sensory experience that promotes well-being.

Whether it is to bring general calm, limit stress, soothe the mind, refocus on sensations or avoid medication, virtual reality is an undeniable ally for a serene birth. Its benefits do not stop there, VR headsets also accompany women in gynecology and pediatrics. To discover for yourself the beneficial effects of virtual reality, request a demonstration or ask us your questions.

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