Many women express fears of pregnancy and childbirth, especially first-time moms. This is normal and healthy. Many people who fear something will turn to research or ask questions of their physician in order to find answers. This is a healthy way to face fears.
Tokophobia is defined as a severe fear of childbirth or pregnancy. It comes from the Greek words “tokos,” which means childbirth and “phobia” which means fear. Also called Childbirth Anxiety or Fear of Childbirth, this is a real fear for many women. A woman doesn’t have to be pregnant to have tokophobia, and it isn’t just women who suffer from the disorder. Men can have a fear of childbirth as well.
It’s when these fears cause panic attacks, insomnia or nightmares that they turn into tokophobia. Other symptoms of tokophobia include terminating multiple pregnancies, expressing a desire for wanting children while continuing to use multiple forms of birth control, an extreme fear of harm during childbirth and demanding a guarantee that baby can be delivered by C-section.
While it is difficult to measure tokophobia, The International Forum for Wellbeing In Pregnancy tells us that 6%-10% of pregnant women may experience it. The number is believed to be increasing as high as 14%. What can happen as a result of tokophobia?
20 Finding A Way Out Of This
A woman who fears pregnancy or childbirth may terminate any pregnancy she finds herself in. An article in Daily Mail features an all-too-common story of a woman who, after losing her first child just five weeks before delivery, terminated the second pregnancy just eight weeks in.
This mother and many others like her are desperate to have a child but terrified to repeat a past negative experience. Other women who may not have been pregnant before have seen or heard stories of labor and delivery and are terrified at what they’ve seen. These women are in a constant battle to end their pregnancies because their fear of it and birth is so intense.
19 Visiting The OB/GYN More Often Than Medically Necessary
A mom who’s extremely fearful during her pregnancy may visit her doctor more often than necessary. With fear comes anxiety. Anxiety is fearing what might happen or excessive worrying in general. Women suffering from tokophobia may see their OB/GYN more often to seek reassurance that everything is okay.
They are filled with the uncertainty of what’s to come. How painful will my delivery be? What if my baby has a birth defect? What if I don’t love my baby? What if I hurt the baby when I bumped into the counter? All of these cause mom anxiety. Health Central tells us that those with anxiety can begin to feel better by learning to tolerate uncertainty.
18 Leaving The Doctor’s Office Suddenly
Some moms can’t get themselves to the doctor to confirm their pregnancy. Other moms make too many trips to the doctor for extra reassurance and then there are moms who make it to the office but leave suddenly before seeing the doctor. In this circumstance, the anxiety is likely over getting bad news.
They feel anxious because they fear the unknown but instead of seeking reassurance or attending a regular check-up, fight or flight kicks in and they hit the bricks. NBC News tells us that the best way to overcome this anxiety is to try and make it through the appointment and gain reassurance that everything is okay.
17 Problematic PTSD
PostPartum.net defines postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as PTSD that follows the birth of a child when there was a real or perceived traumatic event either during or after delivery. This type of event can, in fact, cause tokophobia. Events such as a baby being whisked off to the NICU, an unplanned or emergency C-section, a forceps or vacuum extractor delivery or postpartum hemorrhage can be triggers.
Symptoms of postpartum PTSD can manifest in reliving the trauma over and over, experiencing flashbacks, having nightmares, avoiding people or places associated with the trauma, having difficulty sleeping, being overly irritable, experiencing anxiety and panic attacks and feeling a sense of detachment. Birth trauma is real, mommies.
16 Demanding A Cesarean Section Delivery
For some moms experiencing tokophobia, it is the fear of the pain of childbirth which has them filled with anxiety. To mitigate this anxiety, they will demand a C-section well before the baby is due. The problem with what is often referred to as CS for maternal request or anxiety is that C-sections are very risky procedures for mom and baby and should only be performed when medically necessary.
The Royal College of Midwives even goes as far as to say that it’s unethical for medical professionals to perform C-sections for this reason. They cite encouraging professionals treating moms with tokophobia to guide them to a mental health professional for treatment of their anxiety.
15 Mom May Not Bond With Baby
Tokophobia, depression during and after pregnancy and/or a difficult delivery can all play a role in mom not bonding with her baby. On some occasions, if the childbirth process was exceptionally painful or risky, Enhancing the Future tells us that mom might subconsciously blame the baby and not feel that desire to bond with her. This can lead to attachment issues in the baby when they reach adulthood.
In the case of many moms who struggle with tokophobia, postpartum depression often replaces the joy and excitement other moms feel after giving birth. Postpartum depression can occur if the birthing plan didn’t play out, if there were complications during the pregnancy or delivery or if mom doesn’t feel as if the medical team or her partner were listening to and responding to her needs.
14 Labor May Be Extended Due To High Levels Of Adrenaline
For many women with tokophobia, fears center on the pain of labor and delivery. Unfortunately, this fear can cause extended labor. Hormone.org explains that adrenaline is a key player in our fight or flight response system. When we experience fear, adrenaline kicks in pretty quickly and goes to work. We generally feel our heart begin to race, our palms might become sweaty, and we may begin looking for a quick escape route.
While this response can serve us well in a truly risky situation, when adrenaline kicks in during childbirth, the result is that everything slows down. In order to prompt us to flee, adrenaline must shut down oxytocin.
13 Increased Risk Of PPD
Women who experience tokophobia are more likely to experience postpartum depression. This is more severe than a case of the baby blues. In a study conducted by Nordic Federation of Societies of Obstetrics and Gynecology, they determined that many women suffering from tokophobia have a predisposition to depression before or during pregnancy.
American Pregnancy shares symptoms of postpartum depression which include feeling sad, hopeless or overwhelmed, trouble sleeping and eating, feeling worthless or guilty, having no interest in things mom once enjoyed, having no interest in the baby, having thoughts of hurting mom or baby and fatigue. It is important for women who have symptoms of postpartum depression to seek professional help.
12 May Become Nauseated At The Sight Of Other Pregnant Women
For a man or woman suffering from tokophobia, even seeing another woman who is pregnant can jump-start the fear. It is a visual representation of that fear. When the human body senses fear, the fight or flight response kicks in. The brain sends signals throughout the body to prepare you to avoid the harmful situation. Since this blood doesn’t just magically produce itself, it must come from other organs, like the stomach.
According to Prevent Your Panic, when the blood flow to the stomach decreases, one of the side effects is digestive muscles contracting erratically and fluctuation in the levels of enzymes and acids in your digestive system. These lead to nausea.
11 Mom May Suffer From Gestational Diabetes
When we fear, other hormones begin to go to work in our bodies. One example is cortisol. When we experience fear, our bodies release cortisol. Among other things, cortisol causes our body tissues to have a decreased sensitivity to insulin. This results in a higher than normal level of glucose in our bodies.
WebMD further explains the impact and relationship to gestational diabetes, a higher level of glucose in our bodies while maintaining normal glucose levels when not pregnant. As a result of gestational diabetes, the baby may be bigger than he would be. He may also have low blood sugar and mineral levels, breathing problems and may be born pre-term.
10 Women May Feel Guilty
Being pregnant is supposed to be one of most joyful times in a woman’s life, but if she suffers from tokophobia, she will feel fear and terror. The Guardian equated it to someone terrified of spiders being locked in a roomful of them. When a woman who fears pregnancy and labor finds herself pregnant, she fears others will judge her lack of joy.
In a personal story shared by The Guardian, one mom described how she couldn’t even talk about the pregnancy. Upon a successful birth, mom often feels relief from these symptoms but then, she may experience shame for not feeling the joy of carrying their child inside their bodies.
9 Mom May Deny Prenatal Care As Long As Possible
A woman with pregnancy fear may avoid seeing an obstetrician for as long as possible to keep from hearing the fearful diagnosis according to American Pregnancy. This denial of care sets a pregnant mom up for some risks. Mom can be tested early for high blood pressure, and the monitoring of baby’s heart rate can begin early. Most moms are given prenatal vitamins which provide the extra nourishment both mom and baby need.
The doctor can also warn mom of risky behaviors like substance use, of certain engaging in other dangerous activities. Her obstetrician can evaluate any medications mom may be taking so he can determine their safety to the baby.
8 Women May Decide To Never Have Kids
When we fear something, we often try to eliminate the possibility of experiencing it to the best of our ability. For women fearing pregnancy and labor, according to the NIH, this often exhibits itself in her seeking sterilization at an early age, often in their young twenties but sometimes later.
Sterilization is when an individual seeks an intervention to prevent them from becoming pregnant, or in the case of a man, to impregnate a woman. This action can cause other emotions like guilt to plague a woman, especially if she chooses sterilization before marriage. The guilt of not being able to provide her husband with a child can be very overwhelming.
7 Child’s Emotional Health May Suffer
Attachment is when both the caregiver and the baby share an emotional connection. Healthy attachment is when baby’s social and emotional needs are being met by his caregivers. When mom is suffering from postpartum depression, she may find it difficult to bond with her baby. This has a negative impact on the baby in several ways.
Attachment helps baby feel secure. In addition, How It Works tells us that a baby can have difficulties with social engagement, fear reactivity, and stress. In the case of fear reactivity, the baby will react fearfully in situations in which other babies might be comfortable, such as being in a new place.
6 Low Birthweight Babies Are A Real Concern
According to a study cited by the NIH, mom’s mood during pregnancy has a significant impact on the birthweight of the baby. When women are battling negative emotions, high levels of anxiety and/or depression, there is a negative impact on a baby’s biological development.
In order to lessen anxiety and stress during pregnancy, women are encouraged to seek the help of a mental health professional, discuss their anxieties with their obstetrician and also with their partner. In another study, cited by BabyMed, babies born to moms who tested positive for depression or anxiety were more likely to weigh less than 5.5 pounds at birth and were considered low birthweight babies.
5 Apetite Runs Amok
Some women become so terrified of becoming pregnant or enduring the experience of labor that they psych themselves out of eating a balanced meal throughout the day. Their paranoia generally falls into one of two categories of eating disorders according to The Conversation.
Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder characterized by the severe avoidance of food or eating small bits of food and slicing it into mini portions to eats crumbs.
Bulimia Nervosa is often played out as consuming excessively large amounts of foods to satisfy cravings or due to having mental instabilities that cause the expectant mother to self-medicate with food.
4 Insomnia Will Keep Her Up At Night
Another characteristic of women who have a fear of labor is that they often stay up day and night worrying about what may happen and playing a never-ending game of “what ifs.”
According to Live Science, people should get a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night, and pregnant mothers should get at least seven to ten hours for adequate rest since they are essentially sleeping for two.
Sleep deprivation can have several effects ranging from lack of nutrition, seeing things, irritability or mood swings or improper weight gain. Mothers experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention to help promote a healthy pregnancy.
3 Fearing #2
According to research a high number of women end up losing control of their bowel or bladder muscles during the process of labor. Women with tokophobia may obsess over this to such an extent that they actually cause more damage than good by subconsciously telling their bodies to contract their glutes instead of letting them relax which aides in pushing out the baby.
According to The Conversation, many nurses report that the fact that mothers have bowel movements on the birthing bed is a signal that the hormones are working the way that they should and the mother is pushing the way that she should be.
2 Scared To Push
Some mothers get so caught up in the fear of going through contractions or even worse the fear of pushing their baby out that they may avoid it at all costs. Some women have been reported to have locked their knees or refusing to push altogether. According to TheBump, many women have an immense fear of the pain that may accompany pushing.
Serious complications can arise from a woman not going through with the birthing process. The baby can get stuck in the birth canal, have a lack of oxygen, go into fetal distress, or the woman may experience severe bleeding or damage.
1 Pregnancy Psychosis Hits Home
In rare cases, women can actually be so overwhelmed about the process of giving birth that they develop a condition called Pregnancy Psychosis. According to Baby Centre, it can begin with symptoms as small as a mild form of anxiety and progress into severe cases of seeing objects buzzing about, hearing voices, and having full on visual hallucinations.
A woman who has symptoms may not be immediately aware of what they are going through and chalk it up to pregnancy hormones. In some situations, a mother may be too embarrassed to talk to someone about what they are noticing—what they should be doing, seeking the help of a mental professional.
References: Science Daily,Time, The Atlantic, Parents, UTSW, NIH, Independent, All About Counseling, New Medical, AAFP, Daily Mail, Hormone.org, American Pregnancy, Prevent Your Panic, WebMD, The Guardian, How It Works, Health Central, NBC, Postpartum.net, RCM, Enhancing the Future, BabyMed, The Conversation, Live Science, Baby Centre