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In 2000, an article published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (2000, 176: 83-85) described the fear of childbirth or pregnancy as a psychological disorder, when it had previously received little to no attention as such, in addition to introducing the term tokophobia (from the Greek tokos, meaning childbirth and phobos, meaning fear). Tokophobia is also widely ascribed to the fear of pregnancy, and may also be called "maieusiophobia"
Phobia of childbirth and pregnancy, as with any phobia, can manifest through a number of symptoms including nightmares, difficulty in concentrating on work or on family activities, panic attacks and psychosomatic complaints. Often the fear of childbirth motivates a request for an elective caesarean section. Fear of labor pain is strongly associated with the fear of pain in general; a previous complicated childbirth, or inadequate pain relief, may cause the phobia to develop.
Debate currently rages within the obstetric and psychiatric communities regarding the woman's right to choose mode of delivery—be it the right of a woman to request a caesarean section, or emphasis on the methods available to help them attempt to overcome their fear of vaginal childbirth. Preliminary Swedish and Finnish reports demonstrated the results of treatment during pregnancy, when more than half of the women withdrew their request after being able to discuss their anxiety and fear and vaginal deliveries after treatment were successful.
Tokophobia is a distressing psychological disorder which may be overlooked by medical professionals; as well as specific phobia and anxiety disorders, tokophobia may be associated with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Recognition of tokophobia and close liaison with obstetricians or other medical specialists can help to reduce the severity of tokophobia and ensure efficient treatment.
A few reactions to childbirth include the following:
"The truth is that the very thought of having something almost alien-like growing inside me is disgusting."
"It's not too strong to say that the very thought of childbirth disgusts me in a big way."
"It's much more than an anxiety - I am actually physically repulsed by pregnancy and childbirth."
"I even struggle to be around friends when they are pregnant and can't bear to watch or listen to anything about the process of having a baby."