Being scared of giving birth when you’re pregnant is not uncommon but what if it’s a severe fear. Here’s what you need to know.
What is tokophobia?
Tokophobia is where women have an extreme fear of pregnancy that can lead to them avoiding childbirth altogether. The fear becomes paralysing and terrifying, and can become physically and emotionally disabling (Scollato and Lampasona, 2013).
Tokophobia or being scared of giving birth
Ask any group of pregnant women their thoughts on labour and you’ll know that a fear around childbirth is understandably pretty common. But that’s different to tokophobia.
About 20% to 78% of pregnant women report fears associated with the pregnancy and childbirth (Bhatia and Jhanjee, 2012). Yet only 13% of women report a fear that’s overwhelming enough to make them postpone or avoid getting pregnant altogether (Bhatia and Jhanjee, 2012).
Who is likely to get tokophobia?
Fears are likely to be more common and intense in women who have never been pregnant or given birth (primary tokophobia) (Bhatia and Jhanjee, 2012). Women who have had previous pregnancies (secondary tokophobia) can also experience tokophobia.
Secondary tokophobia is a fear of childbirth developed after a previous traumatic labour or even a normal birth, miscarriage, stillbirth or termination of pregnancy. In a few cases, prenatal depression might be happening alongside tokophobia (Bhatia and Jhanjee, 2012).
Causes of tokophobia
Some reasons that people can suffer from tokophobia are:
- Hormonal changes that make anxiety harder to manage.
- Hearing stories from other women close to them who have been through traumatic births.
- Fears related to medical care like ineffective pain control, fear of loss of control or death, or lack of confidence in the team providing care.
- Psychosocial factors like being a young parent or at a social disadvantage.
- Psychological factors like low self-esteem, revival of traumatic memories of childhood or psychiatric disorders like depression or anxiety.
(Bhatia and Jhanjee, 2012).
Effects of tokophobia
The biggest effect of tokophobia is that women try to delay or avoid pregnancy, using contraception. If they do get pregnant, women might be more likely to choose an abortion or to have their baby adopted (Bhatia and Jhanjee, 2012). They may also opt for a caesarean section when it comes to giving birth (Bhatia and Jhanjee, 2012).
Treatment for tokophobia
Tokophobia can be a lot less debilitating if you have a strong support system, including partners, mothers, sisters or friends and colleagues (Bhatia and Jhanjee, 2012). One study reported a 50% reduction in caesarean birth rates when women received psychological and prenatal support (Sjogren and Thomassen, 1997).
Some other forms of treatment include cognitive behaviour therapy, psychotherapy and taking medication to help tackle your feelings. You could also try hypnobirthing techniques to see if that helps ease the anxiety (Bhatia and Jhanjee, 2012).
This page was last reviewed in March 2018.
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Bhatia MS, Jhanjee A. (2012) Tokophobia: A dread of pregnancy. Ind Psychiatry J. 21(2): 158-159. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24250052 [Accessed 16th March 2018].
Fisher C, Hauck Y, Fenwick J. (2006) How social context impacts on women’s fears of childbirth: A Western Australian example. Soc Sci Med. (63):64-75. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16476516 [Accessed 16th March 2018].
RCOG. (2011) RCOG statement on draft NICE caesarean section guidelines. Available from: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/rcog-statement-on-draft-nice-caesarean-section-guidelines/ [Accessed 16th March 2018].
Scollato A, Lampasona R. (2013) Tokophobia: When fear of childbirth prevails. Mediterranean J Clin Psychol. 1:1-18. Available from: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/25510068.pdf [Accessed 16th March 2018].
Sjogren B, Thomassen P. (1997) Obstetric outcome in 100 women with severe anxiety over childbirth. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 76(10): 948-952. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9435734 [Accessed 16th March 2018].