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In 2000, an article published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (2000, 176: 83-85) described the fear of childbirth as a psychological disorder that has received little attention and may be overlooked. The article introduced the term tokophobia (from the Greek tokos, meaning childbirth and phobos, meaning fear).
Phobia of pregnancy and childbirth, as with any phobia, can manifest through a number of symptoms including nightmares, difficulty in concentrating on work or on family activities, panic attacks and psychosomatic complaints. Often the fear of childbirth motivates a request for an elective caesarean section. Fear of labor pain is strongly associated with the fear of pain in general; a previous complicated childbirth, or inadequate pain relief, may cause the phobia to develop. A fear of pregnancy itself can result in an avoidance of pregnancy or even, as birth control methods are never 100% effective, an avoidance of sexual intercourse.
Tokophobia is a distressing psychological disorder which may be overlooked by medical professionals; as well as specific phobia and anxiety disorders, tokophobia may be associated with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Recognition of tokophobia and close liaison with obstetricians or other medical specialists can help to reduce the severity of tokophobia and ensure efficient treatment.
Primary and secondary tokophobia
- Primary tokophobia is the fear and deep-seated dread of childbirth which pre-dates pregnancy and can start in adolescence. This often relates back to their own mother's experience or something they learned in school.
- Secondary tokophobia is due to previous experience of traumatic birth, poor obstetric practice or medical attention, postpartum depression or other such upsetting events.
A few reactions to childbirth include the following:
"The truth is that the very thought of having something almost alien-like growing inside me is disgusting."
"It's not too strong to say that the very thought of childbirth disgusts me in a big way."
"It's much more than an anxiety - I am actually physically repulsed by pregnancy and childbirth."
"I even struggle to be around friends when they are pregnant and can't bear to watch or listen to anything about the process of having a baby."
- Nicholas, Sadie (27 October 2007). "Are you a tokophobic? The women who are too terrified to give birth". Daily Mail. Retrieved 3 July 2012.