Fear of pregnancy, labor, and delivery has become a modern-day epidemic among pregnant women.
In fact, there’s even a name for it – tokophobia.
More than ever, women are frightened about birthing and the realities of what ‘might’ go wrong during pregnancy or delivery.
Or they have worries about not being able to cope during labor and birth.
Other fears might start to rise; they might be afraid of needing interventions or having a c-section.
It’s quite normal to have a fear of childbirth. Read on to explore women’s 15 biggest childbirth fears.
What is tokophobia?
This strangely named condition is a severe fear of childbirth and pregnancy.
It’s important to understand tokophobia isn’t the same as the normal anxiety or fear of childbirth many women feel before giving birth.
It’s a rare but very real condition for some women.
Women who suffer from this phobia have a morbid fear of giving birth and often avoid becoming pregnant.
It can make them avoid childbirth and opt for a c-section. The right diagnosis and support are very important when treating this condition.
There are two types of tokophobia: primary and secondary.
Read more about the differences in our article Tokophobia-Coping With An Intense Fear of Childbirth.
Do I have tokophobia?
If the thought of becoming pregnant or going through labor is affecting you negatively, it’s quite possible.
Women might avoid sexual activity out of fear of becoming pregnant. Those who do become pregnant are more likely to:
- Request an elective c-section
- Experience more pain during delivery
- Have trouble bonding with their children.
If you’re concerned you might have this condition it’s vital you talk to your doctor, midwife or healthcare provider.
The type of fear you have needs to be determined, to make sure you’re getting the correct form of treatment.
How do I overcome my fear of giving birth?
If you’re afraid of giving birth, it’s important to acknowledge your fears and work out how to deal with them. This will prevent them from becoming so big they get in the way of enjoying your pregnancy.
It’s sometimes best to seek help outside of your immediate circle and medical team. Support groups can create a comfortable environment where you can open up and share your story.
Learn about the birthing process so you can demystify the experience and go into it feeling more aware of what will happen.
Learning more can also help you develop specific skills to cope with labor, as well as make a plan for the ‘what ifs’.
Attend a birth class either at your hospital or through a private provider.
Pregnancy yoga is a good option to help with relaxation and mindfulness, which can be beneficial to women who are nervous about labor. Breathing is also an essential aspect of the birthing process.
Not dealing with your fears can make them feel bigger and worse than they are. Going into labor with fear can have a negative effect on your birth outcome and the beginning of your journey as a mother.
15 Most common birth fears
Below are 15 of the most common fears expectant mothers have about birth. There are also some tips and reassurance to help deal with them.
Fear of the perineum being cut in the delivery room of the hospital is something that affects many women.
An episiotomy is a cut made in the area between the vagina and the anus (perineum). It was routinely done in the past, as obstetricians believed it reduced vaginal tearing.
Thankfully, research now shows routine cutting isn’t evidence-based.
If an episiotomy is suggested, it would be in an emergency, to ensure a baby is born quickly.
Ask your care providers whether they perform episiotomies and under what circumstances. It’s your right to refuse to consent to this procedure without full information about why it’s needed.
Be sure to read 7 Tips To Avoid Having An Episiotomy.
Women with a fear of vaginal tearing have usually heard traumatic stories from other mothers.
Tears in the genital area can happen even during normal, uncomplicated birth. It’s quite common but there’s a difference between expected, mild grazes and tears and more severe tearing.
While there are no assurances, certain factors are linked to tearing as well as the avoidance of it.
Tearing during childbirth can be reduced by using a warm compress and having support from your midwife or obstetrician.
Listen closely to their instructions when birthing your baby as they’re very experienced at watching closely to protect you from tearing.
Be sure to read our article Tearing During Birth, 9 Ways To Help Prevent Tearing.
#3: Loss of sexual enjoyment
Most women fear birth because it might affect their enjoyment of sex.
There might be a level of discomfort the first few times you have sex after birth, but it shouldn’t be painful or ongoing. The most common reason for pain during sex after birth is related to perineal trauma that required stitches.
One study showed women who had a second-degree tear or episiotomy during birth were more likely to experience reduced sexual desire, lower satisfaction, fewer orgasms, and more pain during sex compared with women who had no trauma.
Most women experience minor tears and graze during birth.
The longer you leave the problem, the harder it can be to treat.
You can read more in Sex After Birth – Will It Feel The Same Again?
Almost every pregnant woman has this fear at some stage. It’s a very normal response to the unknown in a situation you can’t control.
If you find yourself worrying obsessively over the thought of losing your baby, seek the reassurance of your care provider. It might help to seek the support of a counselor to work through your fears.
Stillbirth is a rare event and mostly occurs due to congenital abnormality. This means the child was unlikely to survive outside the womb.
Globally, the rate is 13.9 stillbirths per 1,000 total births, with nearly 80% of stillbirths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Developed countries such as Australia and the US have much lower rates.
Although this number is small, it can still be frightening.
The good news is research has resulted in more awareness of babies’ movements, which can reduce the risk of stillbirth.
#5: Pooping during labor
Many women have a fear of opening their bowels during labor and delivery.
Sometimes there’s poop, but it’s completely normal when you think about the physiology of birth.
In fact, most mothers who’ve birthed before will tell you that’s exactly what it feels like when pushing out your baby. Like you are doing one giant poop!
Whatever is in the way of the baby’s head needs to come out first.
Often, at the beginning of labor, women find they experience some diarrhea, which is due to the increase of hormones. These hormones stimulate the bowel to clear out so that when it’s time to push, there’s nothing left.
Midwives and doctors are very experienced and used to dealing with poop during labor. You can rest assured you’re unlikely to know it even happened.
You can read more in Pooping During Labor – Is It On Your Ultimate Horrors List?.
#6: Having a cesarean section (c-section)
Unfortunately, this is a very real fear for many expectant mothers. C-section recovery can be much harder than recovery from normal vaginal birth.
C-section rates are high in developed countries such as Australia, the UK, and the US.
Based on the World Health Organization recommendation of a c-section rate between 10-15%, we know over half of the c-sections in many countries aren’t necessary.
These probably result from routine policies and interventions which aren’t evidence-based.
Avoiding an unnecessary c-section begins with choosing your care provider carefully and having a good birth plan.
Having midwifery-led models of care or a continuous birth support person such as a doula instead of obstetricians and doctors can significantly reduce your risk of c-section.
Needing to have birth interventions is a very real fear for many women. Sometimes, however, it’s a choice that must be made for the safety of mother and baby.
Being well informed and prepared for what might happen can help you to make the best decision for you and your baby.
Choose a care provider who’ll support you through labor and delivery if intervention becomes necessary. Women often feel they are coerced into interventions– a situation that leads to more interventions.
When you have the facts you can make informed decisions, ask questions and understand your options.
Use the BRAIN’D technique as part of your birth plan, to help with your decision-making about which interventions to consent to.
When an intervention is suggested to you, you should ask:
- B – What are the Benefits of this procedure?
- R – What are the Risks of this procedure?
- A – What are the Alternatives to this treatment/procedure?
- I – What does my Intuition say?
- N – What will happen if I choose to do Nothing?
- D – Can we please have some privacy to make a Decision?
This is a very logical and helpful process to work through to help you decide whether or not the intervention recommended is right for you or your baby.
Read more in Reducing Unnecessary Birth Interventions.
#8: Meconium complications
One of the things care providers really focus on is whether there is meconium present when your waters break. This can cause you to worry there might be something wrong with your baby.
Meconium is the green-black substance in your baby’s bowel that usually makes its appearance in the first 24 hours after birth. Sometimes a baby poops during labor and delivery and, if your waters break, the fluid can show as a greenish color.
If meconium is detected in amniotic fluid, your care providers will want to check the baby isn’t in any distress.
You can read more about this in Meconium – What Is It? Everything You Need To Know.
#9: Cord around baby’s neck
Many pregnant women fear their baby will be born with the cord around the neck, known as a nuchal cord.
The umbilical cord is covered in jelly which makes it quite slippery. Most babies have their cords looped around their bodies at some stage during pregnancy.
Babies have been seen on ultrasounds playing with the cord, pulling on it, and even putting it in their mouth.
Around 30% of babies are born with their cords around their neck, so it’s quite a common occurrence.
Care providers are well trained and experienced in dealing with this and, for the most part, wait for the baby to be born before unraveling the cord.
Research shows umbilical cord accidents account for around 10% of stillbirths.
You can read more in BellyBelly’s Nuchal Cord – 9 Facts About A Cord Around Baby’s Neck.
#10: Premature birth
Premature birth occurs before 36 completed weeks of pregnancy. Just the thought of it happening to them can be very worrying for pregnant women.
The reason why premature labor happens isn’t really well known but there are several risk factors for it to happen.
Read Premature Labor – Signs, Symptoms and Management to find out what these risk factors are.
Premature labor can sometimes be prevented and other times it can’t. Be reassured; a premature baby can do very well today with the high-quality neonatal intensive care available.
If you have an increased risk for premature labor, it can help ease your fears to become familiar with the neonatal intensive care unit and the staff there.
#11: Labor pain
Fear of pain during labor (contractions) is very common and, in today’s birth culture, not surprising.
Many women have their own birth experiences and perceptions of what labor and delivery felt like for them.
Check out What Do Contractions Feel Like? to see what we mean.
Most of our ideas about birth come from a medical perspective, which treats birth like an illness. Through movies and TV, we’re exposed to very dramatic ideas of what birth feels like.
Not everyone experiences severe labor pains. My own birth experience showed me every labor can be different. I didn’t even believe I was in labor with baby number five as I didn’t feel pain as such. All I felt was pressure!
Remember, contractions are a healthy sign of your cervix working to birth your baby. It’s not the pain of injury and your body is perfectly designed to cope.
If you run a marathon, you expect to feel some muscle soreness and fatigue. Birth is the same. Your muscles and tissues are stretching and working hard.
Read Contractions–Everything You Need To Know and understand how your body is working.
As an option, there’s always pain relief, whether that is water, massage, a TENS machine or pain medication.
Your birth preparation, birthplace, and birth setting play an important part in how you perceive pain. Choose them carefully if you’re fearful of the pain of labor.
You can read more about this in Labor Pain: What To Expect And Things To Remember.
Many women today come into the birth suite and request an epidural be put in straight away so they don’t have to endure any type of pain.
Of course, this is their right and their choice to make.
There are also times when an epidural is recommended for compassionate reasons. For example, a woman might be struggling to cope with pain and exhaustion, or lack of progress. Or perhaps a woman is suffering anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder due to a traumatic past birthing process.
Many women, however, fear a needle going into their back more than the pain of childbirth, and understandably so. The idea of having an epidural is enough to make many women terrified of birth.
There are some rare incidences where an epidural isn’t recommended by doctors, such as when a mother has low platelets (thrombocytopenia).
Although epidurals during childbirth present risks of their own, it is sometimes necessary to use them. Understanding the process can alleviate your fears.
BellyBelly’s series of articles on epidurals will give you more information.
#13: What can go wrong in childbirth?
Fear of the unknown can really play on someone’s mind.
The thought of being in the delivery room and going through pain to give birth makes many women scared. If you’re scared, it’s totally normal. You’re not the only one!
Mothers are often quick to share their birthing experiences with pregnant women. This can be good or it can be bad.
Some birth stories are uplifting and positive and others can be real horror stories.
Being well informed, through reading and research, helps you to deal with any unexpected events or prepare you if complications arise.
Engaging in a good birth class with your partner, hiring a doula as a labor support person, and choosing your birthplace and care provider is critical to feeling prepared and supported.
Birth plans are also a great tool to make sure everyone is on the same page and understands clearly what your wishes, and your partner’s, are.
Trusting the people caring for you is vital; making your needs, feelings, and beliefs known to them is very important.
Once you have established a good rapport with your care providers, you’ll be able to trust them to do the right thing for you if things aren’t going as planned.
#14: Not making it to the hospital in time
Not being at your birth place when the baby is born is a very real fear for many expectant mothers.
In Australia, around 98% of babies are born in hospitals or birth centers. The remaining 2% arrive during planned home births or are born somewhere other than a hospital. These are known as born before arrival (BBA).
First babies are rarely BBA, as they tend to take their time and mothers often get to the hospital with time to spare.
Second or subsequent babies are more likely to be BBA because labor can be faster. In almost all situations these births have no complications, especially if everyone stays calm.
It can help to have some knowledge about what to do in the unlikely event your baby decides to come before you get to your chosen birthplace.
And make sure your ambulance cover is current!
What To Do When Baby Is Born Before You Get To Hospital is packed full of tips and reassurance.
#15: Being scared of dying while giving birth
Although it seems extreme, this fear is very real for some mothers.
It might come from their own minds – an irrational fear that consumes them so much it affects their everyday lives.
However, these women might have had personal experience of death or of someone dying during childbirth.
Perhaps someone very close to them went through a horrible experience and they can’t help but fear it will happen to them too.
It’s understandable; the thought of something terrible happening to them would be hard to shake.
If this affects you, seek the support of a trained care provider, such as a birth trauma counselor, to unpack these fears and work through them with you.
What are the chances of dying while giving birth?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2017, 810 women died every day, due to preventable causes related to pregnancy and birth.
These numbers are unacceptable, and it’s no wonder people are fearful of childbirth.
75% of these deaths are caused by:
- Severe bleeding- usually due to postpartum hemorrhage
- Complications from childbirth
- Blood pressure related illness (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia)
- Infection post-childbirth
- Unsafe abortion practices.
Access to health care providers such as obstetricians and midwives, as well as prenatal care and proper care, during birth and after, saves many women from childbirth-related death every day.
How bad is childbirth really?
If childbirth were really that bad, women wouldn’t have more than one child. The world would only know of one-child families!
Some women go through traumatic experiences that stay with them forever and cause anxiety and stress. With support, however, they too can find a way to overcome these fears.
Many women go on to birth again after birth trauma because they’re armed with more knowledge and have empowered themselves to have a better experience the next time around.
And usually, they do!
Why you should not fear childbirth
Your body is designed to give birth.
Fear creates tension, which creates pain.
If you can prepare yourself in the best possible way during pregnancy, trust the process, and let your body do what it’s designed to do, your experience can be amazing and empowering.
Women birth babies all day, every day, all around the world. Take comfort! You’re not the only one. At the same time you are giving birth, there are women everywhere on the same journey as you.
Fears during pregnancy and fear of childbirth are both common and quite normal. If your fears are overwhelming you, seek support from your doctor or care provider.
Recognizing a problem exists is the first step toward resolving it. Speak with your doctor and ask for assistance in locating the appropriate services.
There are also support groups, who can provide you with information as well as someone understanding to talk to.
If you want to have someone to help you work through those fears, hire a doula and plan for a positive birth.
Become as informed as you can be during pregnancy. That’s why BellyBelly is here for you.