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05th Mar 2024

What is tokophobia? The fear of pregnancy and childbirth explained

Jody Coffey

tokophobia fear

Being pregnant and giving birth are life-changing moments

For many women, such a life adjustment may lead them to decide they do not want children; however, for some, the very idea may fill them with dread and fear. Tokophobia is a pathological fear of pregnancy and can lead to the avoidance of childbirth, according to the National Institutes of Health.

There are two forms of this phobia:

  • Primary tokophobia, whereby a woman experiences severe fear of pregnancy and childbirth despite having never experienced it.
  • Secondary tokophobia is when a woman has developed the fear due to a traumatic birth.  It is considered a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to WebMD.

In 2022, studies suggested that this tokophobia affected between 2.5 per cent to 14 per cent of all women; though more research is required to determine the actual number.

Pregnancy and anxiety related to childbirth are very common in women, however, people with tokophobia experience such severe fear that it may cause them to take excessive measures to avoid falling pregnant.

Symptoms of Tokophobia

According to the Cleveland Clinic, people with the phobia who do become pregnant may spend their pregnancy in dread and fear rather than enjoying it, as it can affect a person’s thoughts and behaviours.

Many people suffering from tokophobia also suffer from depression.

Symptoms of tokophobia can include:

  • Avoiding sexual intercourse
  • Not feeling emotionally connected to your unborn child
  • Not feeling excited about pregnancy
  • Trying to hide the fact that you’re pregnant
  • Feel disconnected from your partner or loved ones

Some people with Tokophobia may also:

  • Opt for a Caesarean birth (C-Section), even if a safe vaginal delivery is possible
  • Seek an abortion if they fall pregnant
  • Put their baby up for adoption

Causes of Tokophobia

The triggers for this phobia range from societal pressures to health anxiety to trauma.

The main causes for tokophobia include:

  • Having a history of abuse or rape
  • Feeling pressured into having an uncomplicated vaginal birth
  • Hearing of other’s bad experiences during childbirth
  • Being self-conscious about healthcare providers putting their hands near the vagina during birth
  • Being unaware that the likelihood of complications during childbirth is low
  • Anticipating lifestyle changes
  • Lack of control over schedule

Tokophobia can be an extension of other fears

Preexisting fears may bring on the phobia around pregnancy and childbirth, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

These include:

  • Algophobia: The fear of pain
  • Haphephobia: The fear of being touched
  • Iatrophobia: The fear of doctors
  • Nosocomephobia: The fear of hospitals
  • Obesophobia: The fear of gaining weight
  • Pedophobia: The fear of children
  • Thanatophobia: The fear of dying
  • Trypanophobia: The fear of needles

Overcoming tokophobia

Treating tokophobia is possible through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and talking through the aspects of childbirth that are triggering the phobia.

A mental health professional can also provide healthy coping methods that can assist with tokophobia.

Other alternative treatments can include hypnotherapy, stress reduction techniques such as yoga and meditation, and antidepressants if the sufferer has depression.

If you are experiencing any symptoms related to childbirth or pregnancy, whether primary or secondary, you should speak to your healthcare provider to determine to best course of treatment for you.