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How common is fear of childbirth?

As an expecting parent, one of the things you may start to think about is childbirth. Most people go into labour expecting a beautiful, life-changing experience. For some people, the idea of giving birth can be very nerve-wracking. But how common is fear of childbirth? It’s estimated that 14% of all pregnant women report some level of fear or anxiety about giving birth (Webb 2021). And what can you do if you are one of those people who is scared? Read on to find out more.

It's hard to find anyone who is not scared of something, and childbirth is no exception. It's natural to be afraid of something that you don't understand. No wonder many pregnant persons are fearful of childbirth since there is still so much about the process that remains a mystery. Almost any expectant parent will tell you that they have moments of fear leading up to their child's birth. For some, this is a helpful mechanism that motivates them to get ready for their baby. For others, this fear can turn into full-blown anxiety or even panic attacks. Some birthing persons have anticipatory anxiety, which can lead to physical symptoms such as a racing heart, sweating, and dizziness. This can make labour more difficult and increase the chances of having a c-section or medical interventions (Webb 2021). This fear can also turn into full-blown anxiety or even panic attacks, which can lead to PMAD (perinatal mood and anxiety disorder), and it can be debilitating for the parent-to-be.

No one can blame you for feeling a little anxious before your baby is born.

After all, it's a huge change in your life! If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek help from a professional before they become worse, especially if you have a rare condition called tokophobia: phobia in pregnancy and childbirth.

Fear of childbirth (FOC) is generally related to 4 major components:

💡 conditioning: the thought of delivering a baby is paired with previous negative hospital experience

💡 vicarious experience: watched someone else give birth and felt scared

💡 transmission of information: misinformed about some horror birth stories (Rondung et al., 2016))

💡 “unpredictability” of childbirth: the fear of the unknown, fear of potential injury to self or baby, the pain, the capacity to give birth, or the lack of social support (O’Connell et al., 2019). For sure, COVID has added more fear to the “unpredictability”.

No one can totally predict how childbirth will turn out, but there are ways to help alleviate some of the fear. If fear is keeping you from enjoying your pregnancy, here are a few things that you can do...

  1. Talk to your doctor, midwife, or cognitive behaviour therapist, they may be able to help you explore your underlying fears in childbirth.

  2. Avoid negative information from TV, movies, or social media. Media is meant for entertainment.

  3. Talk to other parents and find out about their rewarding experiences.

  4. Do your research and learn as much as you can about childbirth and parenting, and be sure the material is evidence-based.

  5. Hire a labour doula or a postpartum doula to help you navigate childbirth and early parenting.

  6. Take a childbirth class to deal with the unknown. Women with FOC have an increased need for informational support since they are more likely to expect a negative outcome from an uncertain situation (O’Connell et al., 2019). Childbirth classes provide information on what to expect during labor and delivery, and they can help you feel more prepared for the experience. They can also allow you to ask questions and discuss your concerns with other expecting parents. Childbirth classes are a great way to alleviate some of the fear associated with childbirth (Gluck et al., 2020).

Whatever the reason, it's important to remember that for most parents, childbirth is a normal, natural process that doesn't have to be feared. With proper preparation and support, most parents can overcome their fears and enjoy a safe and healthy delivery.

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