Pregnancy is a major physical, psychological, and social event, not only for women but also for their partners and their families. Traditionally, pregnancy and having a baby is a joyful experience, but for many women, pregnancy may also become a worrisome and fearful event. If this fear assumes a pathological dimension, it may become a condition called tokophobia, which requires further evaluation and treatment.
Tokophobia is the fear of pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. It comes from the Greek: Tokos is pregnancy and phobia or phobos means fear. Other terms include Tocophobia, Teratophobia, Parturiphobia, Maieusiophobia, or simply pregnancy or childbirth fear.
To a certain extent, it is normal for many women to have some kind of fear of getting pregnant and having a baby. This is not unexpected, as pregnancy, labor, and delivery are associated with significantly increased risks of pain, and the mother being injured and dying. While in many developed countries the risk of dying in pregnancy and childbirth is less than 1 in 10,000, there are still many countries worldwide where death and injury in pregnancy is significant and where for many women being pregnant is a death sentence.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) over 800 women die each day from preventable pregnancy and childbirth-related problem, and 99% of these happen in developing countries. For example, 1-2 of 100 pregnant women die in Afghanistan, a country that has among the highest rate worldwide of maternal deaths.
Tokophobia can be associated with the following symptoms:
- Fear of getting pregnant
- Fear of labor & delivery
- Sweating and shaking
- Fear of sex
- Panic and anxiety attacks
- Crying (triggered by sight or even words)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Thoughts of death or dying
Tokophobia is not a recognized condition in the United States and many doctors are unaware of it.
A 2017 study showed that worldwide about 1 in 7 women (14%) have tokophobia, though there is a lack of consensus for making the diagnosis leading to a wide range of prevalence (3.7% to 43%).
There is no consensus on how to treat tokophobia. Anti-anxiety medication is an option as is psychological counseling, hypnotherapy, and psychotherapy.