Does the thought of getting pregnant fill you with dread and anxiety? Have you ever wondered if something is “wrong” with you because you are afraid of pregnancy? Let us reassure you right now: Nothing is wrong with you. While a general fear of getting pregnant is common, for some people, the fear can be debilitating. There are many reasons you may feel this way. Let’s take a closer look.
Common fears about pregnancy and childbirth
Childbirth-related worries and anxiety are common1 — perhaps more so than you might think. Just consider all the questions you could ask yourself if you’re contemplating getting pregnant or are actively trying to conceive (TTC): Should I have kids? Can I get pregnant? Am I ready to get pregnant? How can I make sure the baby is healthy? These uncertainties could fill anyone with anxiety!
Sometimes, though, the fear of getting pregnant can feel overwhelming, even debilitating. If this is your first baby, you may worry about the physical challenges of childbirth, including pain and the potential for early pregnancy loss. A 2022 study in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth concluded that 10-20% of people will experience childbirth-related fears, including a high expectation of labor pain.1
According to a 2021 qualitative survey in Nursing Reports, additional common worries for first time parents-to-be include:
- The baby’s health: while pregnant and after the baby is born, breastfeeding success, bonding with your baby2
- Your own mental health: your personal identity changing, being a “good enough” parent, lacking the necessary skills, others’ criticism, postpartum depression2
- Changes to everyday life: lack of sleep, changing how you spend your time, potential changes in your relationship with your partner, financial changes2
- An uncertain future: unknown challenges you or society may face, feeling as if you need to safeguard your child’s future2
If you’ve already experienced childbirth, you may have some different worries, including:
- Traumatic birth or pregnancy complication: If this happened to you previously, you may worry it will happen again.3
- Postpartum depression: If you had this previously, you may worry you will experience it again.4
- Siblings: If you have other children, you may worry about their reaction(s), sharing attention and your ability to create an emotional bond with more than one child.2
Tokophobia: A rare case of extreme fear
Tokophobia is a fear of childbirth that is so strong you actively avoid getting pregnant.5 If you are experiencing this kind of fear, make sure to reach out to your healthcare provider. When pregnant, people who experience tokophobia sometimes don’t feel excitement about the pregnancy and/or try to hide the pregnancy.5
In some cases, people who have tokophobia want to have a baby;6 however, the subsequent fear, often described as “extreme,”5,6 stands in their way. Tokophobia is an under-researched condition, and clinical psychologists are urging healthcare professionals to study and talk about it more.7
What are the different kinds of tokophobia?
There are two different kinds of tokophobia:
- Primary tokophobia: This type can occur in people who have never been pregnant.5
- Secondary tokophobia: This type can develop in people who have experienced a traumatic event during another pregnancy or birth.5
What are some of the causes of tokophobia?
Tokophobia is highly personal. According to Cleveland Clinic, sometimes the root cause can be traced back to:
- Worries about shifts in your lifestyle or routine
- Worries about lacking control of the future
- Hearing stories of others’ negative birth experiences
- Having had a traumatic pregnancy or birth experience yourself
- Concerns about childbirth complications
- Feeling forced into or frightened of having a vaginal birth, though conditions indicate you could have an uncomplicated vaginal delivery
- Feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable about healthcare providers touching your body or vagina during the birth
- Experiencing abuse or rape in the past5
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you think you may be experiencing tokophobia. Lots of great resources exist. Your ob-gyn or healthcare provider can help you navigate your unique circumstances and suggest solutions that may help.
Seeking help to address your fears
Know this: Your feelings aren’t “good” or “bad” — they just are. Try not to make assumptions about how you will be as a parent based on fears you may be experiencing right now. As intrusive as these thoughts and feelings may be, you are not alone in having them. Finding a good support system that includes your doctor, partner, family members or friends is a step in the right direction.
- Rublein L., Muschalla B. Childbirth fear, birth-related mindset and knowledge in non-pregnant women without birth experience. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2022;22,249. doi: 10.1186/s12884-022-04582-6. Accessed April 26, 2023. https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-022-04582-6
- Wilska A, Rantanen A, Botha E, Joronen K. Parenting fears and concerns during pregnancy: a qualitative survey. Nurs Rep. 2021;11(4):891-900. doi:10.3390/nursrep11040082. Accessed April 26, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8715455/
- Swanson S. PATTCh. Having a baby after traumatic birth. Accessed April 26, 2023. https://pattch.org/having-a-baby-after-traumatic-birth/
- Cleveland Clinic. Postpartum depression. Updated April 12, 2022. Accessed April 26, 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9312-postpartum-depression
- Cleveland Clinic. Tokophobia (fear of childbirth). Updated April 12, 2022. Accessed April 26, 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22711-tokophobia-fear-of-childbirth
- Hofberg K, Brockington I. Tokophobia: an unreasoning dread of childbirth: a series of 26 cases. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2000;176(1),83-85. doi:10.1192/bjp.176.1.83. Accessed April 26, 2023. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/tokophobia-an-unreasoning-dread-of-childbirth/492B8EB19D16A2BD455E6BE7539564C9#
- Archibald SJ. The BMJ Opinion. Tokophobia: why aren’t we talking about it more? Updated March 17, 2021. Accessed April 26, 2023. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/03/17/tokophobia-why-arent-we-talking-about-it-more/
When is the best time to get pregnant?
There are only a few days each cycle, around ovulation, when a woman is fertile. Knowing these days can maximise your chance of conceiving.