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Tocophobia: The Fear of Childbirth

Katlyn Joy |13, October 2014


Very few women bounce into the labor and delivery suite feeling confident and fearless. It's normal to have some concerns. If this is your first birth, fear of the unknown is a biggie. If you had a rough time with a previous birth, you have a valid reason to be nervous based on previous experience.

Some women go a bit beyond a dab of nerves, and have a real phobia about childbirth. Enough suffer from it for it to have an actual name: tocophobia. Some put the statistic at about one in five for having real fear of childbirth. A study out of Norway in 2012 found that women who feared childbirth had longer labors: eight hours, compared to the non-scared mothers giving birth in 6 and 1/2 hours.

Ways to overcome your fear of giving birth.

Develop a positive view of childbirth.

Our expectations often end in self-fulfilled prophesies, and the result we expect, happens. Therefore, expect things to go well. Avoid negative thoughts and their assorted horror stories. Visualize yourself giving birth in a happy, supportive environment and everything going to plan. Focus on the real goal; a healthy baby in your arms at day's end.

Be knowledgeable about labor.

Take childbirth classes, read books, and really understand the work your body will be doing so you can work with it, instead of against it. When you understand the work those contractions are doing, and that each wave brings you closer to your baby's birth, you will go with them instead of tense against them. You will also learn what some common obstacles or complications are, and what the options are for these. Recognize that while a cesarean section is a possibility you should prepare for, chances are still overwhelming that you will have a vaginal birth.

Understand what your specific fears are so you can face them down.

Are you afraid of losing control while in labor? Is it the pain of tearing? Is it the chance of a cesarean? Are you afraid you will need drugs, or that you will not get them? Understand your basic fear and learn about the realities of those specific fears, even discuss them with your healthcare provider.

Have a strong labor partner.

Communicate what your hopes and fears for this day are with your husband or partner. Let them know the methods they have at their disposal to calm you, should your fears crop up during childbirth. Do you want a back rub, your hair brushed, or to listen to Bob Marley? Have your labor partner read up on his/her duties as a labor partner so you feel confident in their ability to step up to the plate.

Try to create a supportive and comfortable birthing environment.

Of course, key is having support people. Have a doctor you trust, a partner you know, and other supportive figures near you. Have things around you that feel familiar and comforting. Maybe it's the ultrasound picture, or a family photo atop a mountain peak, or your mother's quilt. Just keep them from being in the way of the proceedings or from getting soiled, as in the case of the quilt. Don't allow yourself to feel captive to the medical trappings of your room. Move around to stay comfortable. Go to the bathroom as needed. Take a warm shower. Of course, all within reason.

Learn relaxation techniques well before birth.

Try progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga and deep breathing. Practice often in the months or at least weeks leading up to birth, so that they are natural and easy for you. When you relax your muscles, your perception of pain will decrease.

If you begin to panic, be prepared with positive thoughts to challenge the panicked ones.

When you start thinking, "I can't do this! I can't handle the pain!" stop and tell yourself, "I can and will do this! Women do this everyday. My mom did it, as did hers. I have all the tools I need, and soon I'll be holding my new baby!"

Don't be rigid in your expectations.

If you were sure you wouldn't need an epidural, but complications require it, be OK with it. This isn't about your ideal plan; it's about having your baby. Focus on the goal of healthy baby and let the details roll off you. Don't let anyone steal your focus or your joy in this day! That goes for you too!

Related Articles

Why Learning Not to Fear Labor & Childbirth Is Beneficial

Online Childbirth Classes: Are They for You?

What to Wear During Labor & Childbirth

Pain Management During Labor and Childbirth

Using Guided Imagery During Labor and Childbirth



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