Tokophobia: The Fear Of Pregnancy And Childbirth

by | September 20, 2018

It’s not uncommon for women to feel worried about labor and birth. Anxiety about the pain of contractions, interventions and the uncertainty of the process is not unusual. But for some women, the fear of pregnancy and birth can be so debilitating that it overshadows their pregnancy and affects their daily lives.

This debilitating fear of birth is called tokophobia – which literally means a phobia of childbirth. And for some women, this also includes a dislike or disgust with pregnancy.

There are two types of tokophobia – primary and secondary.

Primary tokophobia happens in women who have not given birth before.

For these women, a fear of birth tends to come from traumatic experiences in their past –

  • Having had extensive gynecological problems
  • Fear of pregnancy in the family or having heard frightening stories about birth from family
  • Having 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
  • aving depression

Having a fear of pregnancy also been linked to witnessing a difficult birth or listening to stories or watching programs that portray birth as embarrassing or dangerous.

Women who suffer from secondary tokophobia, tend to have had a previous traumatic birth experience which has left them with a fear of giving birth again.

Women with tokophobia come from a variety of backgrounds. Making it difficult to predict who could be affected. Women with tokophobia are also more likely to experience anxiety,  depression and other mental health problems.

Research suggests some women with the condition choose to avoid pregnancy completely – or may consider a termination if they find themselves in that position. When pregnant, some women with tokophobia will request a cesarean section to avoid having to give birth vaginally.

Some women find pregnancy itself very difficult, in particular, dealing with the growing bump and feeling the baby move. Anxiety, insomnia, eating disorders and postnatal depression, have all been identified as consequences of tokophobia.


Some women with tokophobia have longer labors. These usually involve an epidural and increased need for forceps or ventouse – this a cup-shaped suction device which is applied to the baby’s head to assist the birth. All of which can have implications for both the woman and her baby.

Some women with tokophobia may have a hard time bonding with their babies. And a difficult birth experience can make women more afraid of birth if they become pregnant again.

Counseling is the preferred method of treatment – trying to get to the root of the problem through psychoanalysis.

Do you have a fear of pregnancy? Let us know how you cope with it in the comments.

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Julie Nealon

Associate Editor, New York USA | Contactable via [email protected]

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