What is tokophobia?

One in five women suffers from this phobia, literally meaning a ‘fear of labour’


What is tokophobia?

  • It occurs when women experience panic and terror attacks, irrational fears of losing control, of intolerable pain, or even death.
  • It can result in a resistance to ever falling pregnant.
  • Feelings of distress, both emotional and physical, are experienced when contemplating carrying term and delivering.
  • In its most severe form, it can trigger use of one or more forms of contraception well into menopause and, more distressing, it’s not unknown for some women to undergo sterilisation to preclude any remote possibility of conceiving.

Who is at risk of developing this condition?

Estimates suggest that up to 20% of women pregnant for the first time may suffer symptoms. This depends largely on individual characteristics including personality, pain threshold, views on pregnancy, body image, and relationship with her partner. If these are out of sorts, the fright that these women feel can result in irrational fears towards pregnancy and childbirth.

What are the risks if it is left untreated?

  • The desire to abort wanted babies when engulfed by overburdening terrors that they feel unable to cope with.
  • Self harm – binge drinking, drug taking, even landing blows on their abdomens (with the aim of inducing miscarriage) is not uncommon.
  • Refusal to labour, resulting in foetal distress and an emergency caesarean.
  • Feeling desperate to get the baby out as quickly as possible during labour, creating a traumatic birthing process.
  • Postnatal depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and bonding failure between mother and child. 

How to manage and overcome tokophobia

If you are experiencing tokophobic symptoms, there are many ways that you can conquer this phobia and take back control of your pregnancy:

  • Draw up a birth plan. Talk to an anaesthetist, midwife, or doctor, for instance, to find out your pain relief options – from using a water pool to having an epidural.
  • Hypnotherapy, particularly for secondary tokophobics after a traumatic first pregnancy, may help. With this technique, a therapist can give you a new outlook for the second.
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy involves working with a therapist to tackle negative thought patterns.
  • Aromatherapy, reflexology and massage, both prenatally and in the labour room, has been found to relieve anxieties for women suffering milder symptoms.
  • Encourage dads to be actively involved in discussing their fears so that they do not project them on to you and then can be as supportive as possible.
  • Doulas are trained and experienced in supporting women during labour and if you can afford it, they can really help to reduce fear and anxiety.

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