What is tokophobia and what causes fear of pregnancy? Symptoms, signs and treatments

TOKOPHOBIA is a little-known condition, but it can be debilitating for those suffering from it.

Here’s everything you need to know about the severe fear of giving birth, the effects it may have on a pregnant woman and the support available.

Women with tokophobia have a strong fear of giving birth
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What is tokophobia?

Tokophobia is a fear of childbirth.

Being worried about pregnancy and childbirth is perfectly normal – every pregnant woman has some degree of concern about what might happen.

But for a minority, this worry is a lot more severe.

According to NCT, one study estimates that six in every 100 women are so scared of giving birth it affects their pregnancy and birth choices.

Many feel strongly that they want a C-section over a vaginal birth.

Specific fears may focus on:

  • pain of childbirth
  • worries related to being in the hands of healthcare professionals
  • not understanding what might happen
  • fear the baby may be hurt or injured
  • fear of injury to themselves
  • dying
  • anxiety about being alone or trapped
There are two types of tokophobia – primary and secondary

What causes fear of pregnancy?

The NCBI states that tokophobia can be classified as either primary or secondary.

Primary is a morbid fear of childbirth in a woman with no previous experience of pregnancy.

Secondary is a fear that’s developed after a traumatic event in a previous pregnancy.

For those with primary tokophobia, the dread of childbirth may start as early as adolescence.

Women scared of hospitals, injections or of being exposed or naked may find their fear exacerbated.

For those with primary tokophobia, fears may have begun at an early age
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Other causes include:

  • having had extensive gynaecological problems
  • fear of childbirth in the family or hearing frightening stories about birth from family
  • having had an anxiety disorder
  • having a strong need to remain in control at all times
  • having experienced sexual abuse as a child
  • having experienced sexual assault or rape
  • having depression
Women with a fear of hospitals may be more likely to develop tokophobia
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What are the signs and symptoms?

The physical and psychological symptoms of tokophobia vary, but often include:

  • recurring nightmares
  • hyperventilating
  • sweating and shaking
  • panic and anxiety attacks
  • crying (triggered by sight or even words)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • thoughts of death or dying

Are there any treatments?

Women who have tokophobia are often prescribed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication.

Research shows that fears can be reduced with specific psychological and emotional support during pregnancy

Cognitive behaviour therapy, hypnotherapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitisation reprocessing) are recommended therapies.

Many women are also helped through pregnancy and birth by a doula.


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