Tokophobia is an extreme fear of childbirth. Here’s how to recognise and treat it

Julie Jomeen, Southern Cross University; Catriona Jones, University of Hull; Claire Marshall, University of Hull, and Colin Martin, Southern Cross University

Many pregnant women worry about birth. Some, however, suffer from a much more serious condition called tokophobia: a severe and unreasoning dread of childbirth, which is sometimes accompanied by a disgust of pregnancy.

At its most extreme, tokophobia can lead to:

  • an obsessive use of contraception to prevent pregnancy
  • termination of pregnancy
  • not attending maternity care appointments
  • post-traumatic stress disorder and/or other mental health disorders and mother-baby bonding difficulties.

Tokophobia comes in two forms: primary (in women who have not had a baby before) and secondary (women who have previously had a baby). Women with tokophobia in a previous pregnancy are more likely to have it in a subsequent pregnancy, resulting in a potential cycle of anxiety and depression.

Our new paper, published in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, reflects on a recent meeting of researchers and clinicians about what’s missing from the way we identify and treat tokophobia.

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