Coping with fear of childbirth

Fear of childbirth.
Studies show about 15 to 22 percent of women worldwide, and possibly 50 percent of women in the U.S., experience fear related to childbirth at some point during pregnancy.

It’s completely normal to be a little scared about giving birth. Childbirth is a complex process and a truly life-changing event for any woman. But many women suffer from an excessive fear of childbirth, also called tokophobia, which can negatively impact their birth experience.

In this post, I will discuss why many women experience significant fear and how it can impact pregnancy and labor. I’ll also suggest some coping mechanisms.

A common concern

If you’re scared of childbirth, you’re not alone! About 15 to 22 percent of women worldwide experience fear about the birth process at some point during pregnancy. Studies suggest as many as 50 percent of women in the U.S. experience this fear.

It’s not just first-time mothers who feel this way. Women who have given birth before can also develop significant anxiety about their upcoming birth. For first-time and experienced mothers alike, the fear is rooted in not knowing what exactly will happen during labor and delivery. First-time moms lack experience and don’t know what to expect, while women with children realize it is difficult to know for certain what will happen during labor.

Fears and manifestations

Pregnancy already comes with a long list of symptoms and body changes. The physiological stress response that accompanies fear can add a whole new set of unpleasant side effects.

Women typically voice fears related to:

  • Pain
  • Maintaining control
  • Their personal well-being
  • Distrust of their own competence
  • Safety of their baby during labor 

These fears can often manifest as:

However, fear does not necessarily increase as pregnancy progresses. In one study, the rate of fear actually decreased from 22 percent reportedly felt in the middle of pregnancy to 17 percent close to delivery. So we know there are ways to address fear and lessen anxiety.

Coping techniques 

One way reduce your fear is actively preparing for childbirth in advance.

Find outside experts and resources you trust to provide good, helpful information or care. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by other people’s terrifying birth stories or media reports of unusual deliveries. Remember these stories often carry a negative bias, and seek out unbiased information for a balanced perspective.

Ask questions about things that worry you most. For instance, if you’re concerned about newborn care, learn more about the qualifications of those caring for your baby and the level of care provided by the pediatricians and nursery there. If the fear extends to taking the new baby home, pursue classes on newborn care or infant CPR.

Attend classes to understand what you’ll need to do during labor, and tour the facility where you plan to deliver so you know what to expect when you arrive.

Birthing classes, training for labor, and staying active during pregnancy can help you be physically ready for the delivery. This preparation may be especially helpful if you’re worried about performance during labor and how to get back in shape following delivery.

Finally, examine your fears and discuss them with your health care provider. Don’t keep these worries to yourself. Recognizing and processing fear prior to labor can make a difference, and if we know what you’re worried about we can help address it.

For example, if you’re concerned about a repeat occurrence of something that happened in a previous pregnancy, let’s examine that situation. If your pain wasn’t controlled well during the last delivery, let’s make a plan for how we might handle it differently this time. Perhaps you could even meet with an anesthesiologist to discuss your concerns.

Prenatal appointments can be rushed affairs, but try to discuss your fears with your provider. It may make your pregnancy much easier and more enjoyable.

For more information about pregnancy, labor, and delivery, sign up to receive Your Pregnancy Matters email alerts when we publish new stories. You can also make an appointment to see one of our specialists by calling 214-645-8300.

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