Tokophobia: The fear of childbirth


by Lorna White |
Updated on

When you're considering having children or when you're pregnant in the lead up to giving birth, it's normal to experience fears of childbirth, pregnancy and the pain and risks that may come with that, and it's thought that up to 80 per cent of women experience these thoughts and feelings. However, it's rare that this might put you off having children altogether.

Tokophobia refers to the fear of childbirth. There can be a number of causes for this, and a few tests you can do to help understand if you're living with the fear of giving birth.

If you think you might be living with tokophobia and want to find out some more about it, we've put together a guide of everything you need to know, from exactly what it is, to how you can overcome this unique phobia.

What is tokophobia?

Women who have tokophobia have a fear of giving birth, and as a result, they might avoid becoming pregnant so that they don't have to give birth, even if they do want children.

Some fear different aspects of birth, and many women who fear having a vaginal birth will opt for a c-section to help calm their fears.

It's a phobia that can affect women who haven't given birth, but it can also be a result of a traumatic birth experience in the past.

It's understandable why women may develop this fear, after all, there are a number of risks that come with pregnancy and giving birth. Not only can many women fear the pain that they might experience, but also, the fear of something going wrong. While these fears are very normal for any woman who is pregnant or soon giving birth, for women with tokophobia this fear is a pathological anxiety disorder, which often cause women to opt not to have children.

While most women are able to cope with the fears and anxieties around childbirth, the 0.032 per cent of womenwho are believed to have tokophobia are unable to cope and process these feelings and emotions.

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What are the symptoms of tokophobia?

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Panic attacks

  • Nightmares

  • Extreme fear of birth defects, stillbirth, or maternal death

  • Feelings of dread at the thought of pregnancy and birth

  • Insistence on a Caesarean section for their birth

  • Avoidance of sexual activities to avoid becoming pregnant

  • Difficulty bonding with baby

What causes tokophobia?

There are two main forms of tokophobia, primary and secondary.

Primary tokophobia: This affects women who have never experienced birth. It may affect women who have experienced past trauma in their life or hearing about traumatising childbirth experiences from other women. They may also have a fear of pain or have pre-existing anxiety and depression.

Secondary tokophobia: This affects women who have previously given birth. They often develop tokophobia as a result of a traumatic labour experience or those who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, pregnancy termination, or failed fertility treatments. This should not be confused with PTSD, and if you think you might be suffering from trauma from a previous birth, you should speak with your GP.

There are many other things that can cause or trigger tokophobia including a lack of trust in medical practitioners, fear of birth-related complications, fear of pain, fear of the unknown and generalised anxiety.

What are the treatments?

You might want to speak to your GP or a mental health professional if you feel like you may be experiencing tokophobia or any anxiety around birth, as they may be able to help you find why you're feeling like this, and help you feel more comfortable with giving birth. Things like CBT can help to change your mindset when it comes to birth and it can be useful if you're feeling anxiety around childbirth.

It's also a good idea to speak to other mums, or maybe find a support group where you can chat to mums who may have been through a similar experience as they may help to calm your fears. Try to avoid listening to birth horror stories as these will just add fuel to the fire. Surround yourself with mums who have had a positive birth experience, who will be able to help guide you through yours.

If you think you may have tokophobia or if you're struggling to cope with any anxieties around being pregnant or giving birth, speak to your GP.

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