Crying During Pregnancy and Labor: Breaking Through Barriers with Tears

Crying pregnancy labor

Person crying

I’ve wanted to write about this for years. The profound effect crying has on people has always fascinated me. How can something that must seemingly come from a place of hurt lead to what can only be described as relief?

Now, for some people, crying comes easily. Maybe they are just instinctively good cryers or were fortunate to have the support from others to cry; I’m sure there are many reasons. But for others, like me, crying doesn’t come so easily. For pregnant women, this makes breaking through barriers during their pregnancies and labors more challenging.

Crying has always been hard for me, even though I know I need to do it. I know how much better I feel, how much less cloudy my mind is. But I also know it takes a willingness to be vulnerable, something I seldom allow myself to do. I need privacy and safety, as many others likely do. Often, those two elements don’t come together and so the need to cry builds. At some point, there’s no moving past what’s causing the hurt and the only way out is to be honest and let the tears flow.

Possible Hang-Ups About Crying

I know what my hang-ups are when it comes to crying. As someone who was bullied all through school, I did my best to hide my tears because I didn’t want to be seen as weak or give them the satisfaction of seeing me hurt. Like many other kids, I also remember being disciplined or scolded at times for crying too much. It’s about safety for me; I’ll cry when I need to, but never in front of anyone…not if I can help it. I also fear that I’m “too much” when I do get emotional, and that’s embarassing to me. So finding the nearest bathroom, bedroom, or private place is a must if the tears are going to fall.

And doesn’t anyone else think crying hurts? I hate how I feel when I’m doing it. I also hate how sometimes, it’s like an earthquake with aftershocks that pop up out of nowhere in the hours after the initial round of tears. Despite how much I hate it, though, I can never deny how necessary it is. It’s freedom, it’s relief.

So, for women who are pregnant, what are some hang-ups they might have about crying prior to and during labor? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Fear of judgement
  • Fear of appearing weak
  • Fear of being vulnerable in front of others
  • A belief that crying is a sign of weakness
  • A belief that she’ll be “too much” for others to handle
  • Fear of being seen as overly emotional
  • Embarassment

The reasons for these hang-ups no doubt vary from woman to woman, based on her individual life experience. Some of these impactful experiences might include:

  • Abuse
  • Abandonment
  • Upbringing (cultural, religious, etc.)
  • Lack of privacy
  • Lack of support
  • Suggestion from others not to cry

The Benefits of Crying

 Believe it or not, even if it doesn’t always come easy, crying is good for you. The list of benefits include:

  • reducing emotional stress
  • ridding the body of toxins
  • improving mental clarity
  • moving past barriers
  • releasing tension

There is science behind the benefits of crying. One study found a difference in the make-up of reflex tears and emotional tears. While the reflex tears consisted primarily of water (approximately 98%), emotional tears included more chemicals. What I really thought was interesting is that one of the hormones found in emotional tears was prolactin, which is also associated with a mother’s let down reflex.

You can Google it all you want; the benefits of crying are real.

But what if you’re like me? What if crying doesn’t come so easily?

Practice is the Key

If you struggle to let those tears flow, consider the growing trend in Japan. I saw an article online that struck me a couple of years ago: Japanese men getting together to watch sad movies so they could learn how to cry. In a society where it’s considered a virtue to keep emotions in check, this trend is helping to “normalize” crying. Not to mention how much better the participants feel after a good cry!

Life is already stressful enough. Add to it the changing hormones, anxiety, and fears common in pregnancy. It’s very common for women to “get stuck” or plateau during pregnancy and childbirth. What isn’t so easy is giving in and letting it go with a good cry.

Any number of things can give a pregant woman reason to cry. From financial strain, physical changes, discomfort, to anxiety and fears surrounding birth and past trauma, it’s completely understandable to feel the need to cry. Pregnancy tends to be a time in the lives of many women where such issues emerge to be dealt with.

For a woman nearing the end of her pregnancy, it’s the perfect time to let the tears flow when she feels the need. Not only will it help her feel better, it’s great practice for labor. One of my favorite birth-related books, Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel, points out just how significant crying during pregnancy, and especially during labor, is. I was trying to come up with a good analogy to describe the way holding back from crying affects moving beyond barriers for pregnant and laboring women. All I could come up with was having to pee.

We all have to do it. We all know that if we hold it in too long, it’s all we can think about. There’s nothing else taking up residence in our minds when the need to pee has reached its nagging peak. Same goes for needing to cry. At some point, the dam will break.

I also think that Ina May Gaskin used a similar analogy that also applies here. She pointed out how most people have a hard time peeing in front of others. This, too, applies to crying. Having an audience, especially one that you aren’t sure supports you, is a real hinderance. Call it what you will (I think of it as a sort of stage fright), crying openly in front of others isn’t always easy.

As with just about everything else in life, practice is the key. Pregnancy is the perfect time to get in touch with your emotions and address any mental roadblocks you may be facing. Crying helps with this. A few ideas to help you with getting those tears to flow are:

  • Find time to be alone
  • Find safe people to talk to (your partner, a trusted friend, family member, counselor, or doula are excellent options)
  • Journal about your feelings
  • Watch a movie that makes you cry
  • Listen to music that helps you cry
  • Be honest with yourself about your feelings
  • Give yourself permission to cry

As challenging as it may be, even one good cry during pregnancy can help to straighten out jumbled thoughts and emotions. It also helps to set the stage for the transition to childbirth. If crying during pregnancy helped to move past emotional barriers, remember that it can do the same during labor. Physically and mentally demanding, childbirth is no time to hold back from crying, especially in the instance of a plateau or intense transition. Tips for crying during labor include:

  • Requesting privacy if there are too many people in the room
  • Letting your care provider know ahead of time you plan on crying as an aid to help labor progress
  • Making sure you have good support (your partner, doula, friend, or relative)
  • Shutting out negative comments or advice from others (a support person can help with this)
  • Practicing during pregnancy
  • Trusting that crying is purposeful
  • Reminding yourself of other times crying has helped you to feel better (a support person can remind you of this as well)

Facing Obstacles

There will always be obstacles to crying, though. Many people, even medical care providers (they’re people with feelings, too), are made uncomfortable by crying. It’s possible that they or others (your partner, friends, family, etc.) might tell you not to cry. They may or may not give you a list of reasons why you shouldn’t cry or tell you what to do instead. Odds are, they are simply just uncomfortable with it. Generally speaking, I don’t believe most people like to see others hurt. It’s also without question a learned response. I know I’ve heard it and hate to admit I’ve said it… “Don’t cry”. While no ill is likely intended by telling someone not to cry, it takes away from the validity of a person’s emotions.

But crying isn’t about weakness or defeat. So in spite of your own hang-ups, or what others might think or say about it, it’s important to remind yourself that crying is an essential release that leads to renewed strength.

It’s kind of like the difference between transition in labor and the pushing stage: considered the most intense part of labor for many women, transition is often the time women are pushed to the limits of what they think they can take. Those viewing on will inherently want to help. If a woman is encouraged and supported through this stage, pushing often yields a more focused and less distressed woman. With the pain and intensity of transition over, women can catch their breath and get ready for the purposeful work of pushing their babies out.

If, instead of receiving encouragement and support during transition, a woman is told not to cry or is offered other options, she may miss out on the relief and satisfaction that waits on the other side of safely expressing her emotions through tears. Anxiety, fear, and other pent up emotions that are not let out cause more physical pain, as well. This is often the point where women face decisions that will affect how their babies are born. This is a very tender period for the mother. Practice in supporting a woman in this delicate phase is essential. Not only does it reduce her risk of interventions, it increases her odds of reflecting positively on the birth experience.

Just like transition, crying is temporary. It’s simply a part of the process.

Seeking out the support of a doula is an excellent idea if you fall into the category of women who struggle to cry as a way of dealing with pent up emotions or who lack needed support. Trained to listen non-judgmentally, provide encouragement and a feeling of safety, doulas know the difference that positive support makes possible.

For information about resources in the area or to inquire about our services, please contact us.

North Ottawa Community Hospital

Questions and Answers from NOCH Hospital Tour with Laura on 2-24-14 

Classes and Other Support Services

Does the hospital offer classes in childbirth education? Newborn care? Breastfeeding? Postpartum adjustment?

Laura teaches childbirth preparation. She is trained through Prepared Childbirth Educators.  She teaches a 3 class (2 ½ hours per class – 7 ½ hours total) series and an all day (9 AM – 4 PM) Saturday class.  They have a breastfeeding support group that meets 2x/mo.  They also have infant/child CPR, Postpartum adjustment group, a refresher class, and a sibling class.  They do not have any IBCLCs, but Laurie McCabe is their certified breastfeeding counselor who teaches their breastfeeding preparation and breastfeeding and beyond classes.

Care During labor and birth – Organization of Care

Is there a birth center in the hospital? How does care in the birth center differ from “regular” hospital labor and delivery care?

 There is a separate area within the hospital that is for labor and delivery. It was private and when I was there at least, very quiet.  The nurses do work 12-hr shifts, so you may have the same nurse for your entire stay (depending on how long you are there).  They also strive for one-on-one care, when possible, so moms get a lot of personalized attention.

Would I labor and give birth in one room, or would I be required to move just before the birth? Would I stay in the same room after I give birth?

Women deliver and recover in the same room. There is an operating room on the unit just for c-sections.

Care during labor and birth – companions

Do you have any policies that limit the number of people who may be with me during labor and birth? Can the baby’s siblings be present?  Is there an age restriction?

I didn’t ask and it didn’t come up.

Do you have experience with trained labor support (doulas) during labor and birth? Do you encourage use of doula care?

Laura said they see a doula at a birth about every four months or so.

Care During Labor and Birth – interventions

Do you monitor the well-being of the baby during labor? Do you use occasional or continuous electronic fetal monitoring?  Is a Doppler or fetoscope an option?

It’s up to the provider and really depends on how well the baby is doing. They do use the wireless, which can pick up the heartbeat at long distances (mom can walk the perimeter of the ward without a problem) and are waterproof.

What are your usual policies and practices about:

  •  IVs in labor

I didn’t ask and it didn’t come up.

  • Freedom to be active and move about in labor

This is very much supported. They have three sizes of birth balls that Laura described using in a variety of ways.  As mentioned before, moms are encouraged to walk, as well.

  • Eating and drinking in labor

Laura said that it’s up to the provider, but they have juice, jello and other “clear fluids” on hand.

  • Positions for birth

She described many different births using the stool, squat bar and hands and knees. Hands and knees and the stool seemed to be her favorite.  She said she sees more intact perineums with the stool, too.

What is the usual care if a labor is progressing slowly?

If a mom comes in, she is monitored for two hours. If, during that time, there is no cervical change, they will send her home.  Laura encouraged labor support people or moms themselves to call the hospital to inform staff of their progress.  She said to just call straight to labor and delivery.  She said that 4-1-1 is the rule: contractions four minutes apart, lasting 1 minute each, continuing for at least an hour, but it’s usually OK to wait a little longer.

What percent of the time do women giving birth here get an episiotomy?

She had stats, but didn’t want to give them out without asking permission first.

Care during labor and birth – help with pain

How would you recommend that I prepare for managing pain during labor and birth?

I didn’t ask this question, but they do have a high percentage of parents that attend their childbirth preparation classes.

What drug-free measures for pain relief are available in this hospital?

They have birth balls, as mentioned above. For comfort, they are cool with aromatherapy and have a CD player families can use.  Their Jacuzzi can be used for pain relief, but there isn’t enough space to deliver in there.  Some of the providers are pushing for a portable birth tubs, but it is still uncertain.

What would happen if I decided that I wanted an epidural?

I didn’t ask this question.

Are other pain medications an option?

I didn’t ask this question.

Care during labor and birth – complications

What percentage of women who give birth here have cesarean sections?

She had stats, but had to ask permission before disseminating. She did say their overall c-section rate was lower than the national average and primary c-section rate was only 19%.

Are there any situations (such as cesareans or other procedures, tests, treatments) that would require me to be separated from my partner and/or doula during labor or birth?

Only 1 person is allowed to be in with the mom during a cesarean.

Postpartum and newborn care

What newborn care is routinely provided or offered if a baby is healthy?

Hep B shot, Vit K shot and Erythromycin eye drops. Baby is weighed and measured.

Would my baby be separated from me immediately or shortly after birth? For what purpose and how long?

Early skin-to-skin is encouraged. Most procedures take but a few minutes to complete.  The baby can stay with mom until she’s ready to hand him/her off and then he/she can go back to her quickly afterward.

Are there any policies regarding use of hospital nursery care by healthy newborns? Do you have a “rooming in” option, where my baby could stay in the room with me instead of being cared for in the nursery?

I didn’t ask this question.

Is there a newborn intensive care unit on site? Is there any situation in which my baby would need to be transferred to another facility?

There is no NICU on site.

What breastfeeding resources are available? Does the hospital have a lactation consultant on staff?  How would I ensure that my breastfed baby would not be given bottles of water or formula?  Do you pass out formula samples?

They have a certified breastfeeding counselor, Laurie McCabe, who serves all of their patients, but most staff nurses have some training. There are no IBCLCs on staff.

Could my partner stay with me throughout my stay after the baby is born? What accommodations are available?

The rooms have a pull out love seat that looks pretty comfortable.

Leaving the hospital

How long do women usually stay after a vaginal birth? Are shorter or longer stays acceptable to the staff?

I didn’t ask this question.

What follow-up care would you provide after I go home? Does the hospital have a nurse available for home visits?  Do you provide information or give breastfeeding or emotional support over the phone?

About 45% or more of the moms who deliver there have a positive perinatal risk assessment screen. Laura attributes this to the very personalized care she gives and the multiple contacts which build trust with moms to be honest about their experience.  They have a support group for postpartum adjustment and are dedicated to providing emotional support.