How Words Affect Your Birth Experience

My heart melted when I read my daughter’s preschool monthly newsletter. The theme this month is “the power of words.” The lesson: The words you say have impact. “Before you speak, think and be smart. It’s hard to fix a wrinkled heart.” Words can hurt. They can diminish how someone thinks about themselves and be extremely hurtful. On the other hand, words can empower. The preschool is also teaching little ones the importance of using words to speak up for yourself and how to ask for help.

Why is it that we don’t carry these simple lessons from preschool into our adult lives? Are we thinking about how our words affect others? Are we thinking about how the words we say to ourselves impact our confidence? Are we speaking up for ourselves? Are we asking for help when we need it?

All too often I have seen a birthing person start to lose confidence in her ability to birth. If we tell ourselves how impossible something is, we give power to that thought and intensify the “impossibility.” If the people around the birthing person talk down to her, belittle her, and take her voice away, she will feel traumatized. Sadly, 45.5 percent of women use such words as “barbaric” and “horrific” to describe their birth.

The British Journal of Medicine recently reported that new guidelines have been implemented in the UK regarding how care providers speak with their clients (clients as opposed to patients, because pregnancy and birth is not a sickness). Simple changes of verbiage can give a woman back her voice and power, they can give her confidence and autonomy over her body and her birth. The new guidelines require providers to avoid anxiety producing words like “big baby” and instead say “healthy baby.” They’ll now say “slow labor” instead of “failure to progress” and they mustn’t use words that can infantilize a person such as, “good girl”: Instead they may say “you’re doing great.” Additional rephrasing includes: “I would recommend/suggest/advise…” instead of “You must/need/require…” and “medically complex” as oppose to “poor obstetric history or high risk,” which may feel insensitive or discouraging.

This change of language also reflects a change of attitude, prejudices, and patriarchal perception. For many years, our society has subscribed to the idea “doctor knows best.” This shift of communication is opening the birth experience to acknowledge the birthing person plays a vital role in the decision making. The care provider is moving away from the “controller” to the “facilitator.”

Studies continue to support when women are more involved in decision making, they perceive their birth experience in a more positive light. I encourage you to demand higher standards from the people around you and to remember to be kind to yourself. Words really do matter.

Debra Flashenberg is the founder and Director of the Prenatal Yoga Center. She is a certified labor support doula, Lamaze Childbirth Educator, and certified prenatal yoga instructor. She is continuously in awe of the beauty and brilliance of birth and is the proud mother of her son, Shay and daughter, Sage. Visit for more info!

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