What is Tocophobia and Why is it Important to Overcome it?

Representations of pregnancy and childbirth in popular culture may play a role in the development of tocophobia. What does this disorder consist of?
What is Tocophobia and Why is it Important to Overcome it?

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 11 June, 2022

Tocophobia is an extreme and irrational fear of pregnancy and childbirth. It’s estimated that about 14% of women in the world suffer from it. In fact, it can even occur in those who wish to have children, with consequences on their quality of life.

It’s normal to have some fears surrounding pregnancy. However, when these reach an extreme level, it can lead to anxiety and panic attacks, even at the thought of giving birth. What are the possible causes? How to cope with it?

What is tocophobia?

Tocophobia is defined as a disorder in which there is an exaggerated and unfounded fear of pregnancy and childbirth. The word comes from the Greek root “tokos,” meaning “birth,” and “phobos,” meaning “fear.”

According to a study published in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, this disorder has increased considerably since 2000. However, more research is still needed.

Women with the disorder often become obsessed with contraception. They may even avoid having sex for fear of becoming pregnant. If they become pregnant, they consider abortion or may request a cesarean delivery instead of a vaginal one.

The fear is focused on a particular object or aspect, or it can be general. Sometimes there’s fear of the pain of contractions, of the baby passing through the vaginal canal, of the instruments used, of the responsibilities of having a child, or of everything as a whole.

¿Qué es la tocofobia?

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Types of tocophobia

There are two types of tocophobia depending on whether the fear appears in the first pregnancy or after having children. These are detailed below.

Primary tocophobia

First-time mothers or women who have never been pregnant are affected by this fear. In this case, the fears are usually focused on one or more of the following aspects:

  • Fear of suffering during childbirth
  • Fear of the changes that the body will undergo
  • Concern about giving birth to a baby with abnormalities
  • Fear of the responsibility of having a child

Secondary tocophobia

This occurs in women who have already given birth before. Usually, they have had a traumatic pregnancy or birth and this causes them to be extremely fearful of the possibility of becoming mothers again. It often stems from poor obstetric practice or severe postpartum depression.

Symptoms

Tocophobia is a specific phobia and corresponds to a form of anxiety disorder. Its main feature is an intense and irrational fear that cannot be overcome or rationalized by conventional means.

This precipitates avoidance behaviors, such as obsession with contraceptives or not having sex. It also triggers anxiety about situations associated with pregnancy and childbirth. It often results in nightmares, panic attacks, and similar symptoms.

In the most severe cases, women completely deprive themselves of sex and become severely limited by their fear. If they become pregnant, they request a cesarean section or may even develop a problematic bond with their children.

The causes of tocophobia

In most cases, women with tocophobia have formed a dramatic image of what pregnancy and childbirth are like, either because they’ve been exposed to people close to them who convey this perspective or because they’ve witnessed difficult situations associated with it.

In some cases, there’s a previous anxiety disorder. This could have been triggered by sexual abuse during childhood or because the woman suffers from vaginismus or dyspareunia, which causes pain during sexual intercourse.

In the case of secondary tocophobia, previous traumatic experiences have not been overcome. Therefore, this disorder would be a manifestation of post-traumatic stress. In such cases, there is a fixation on fear, although the circumstances are different.

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How to overcome this phobia

Cinema and television often present a negative discourse about childbirth. This can have a major impact on a woman. Therefore, the best thing to do is to get information about the process from more reliable sources, such as a doctor or midwife. It’s a very good idea to discuss your fears with them.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is often a very effective way to treat phobias. A perinatal psychologist can also be consulted. This is a professional trained to offer timely support in these cases.

Meditation practices are also often an efficient way to reduce anxiety. If a woman has not had children and does not plan to have them because of fear of pregnancy or childbirth, she should ideally seek psychotherapy to explore what’s behind this extreme fear and treat it.

¿Cómo superar esta fobia?

Final recommendations

It’s very important to have a sympathetic attitude towards a woman who suffers from tocophobia. Instead of minimizing her problem or comparing her to other women, it’s best to accept her condition and support her in overcoming it.

Although there is an exaggerated fear in cases of tocophobia, it’s not deliberately felt. It’s just born and is uncontrollable for the affected person. Pressure or finger-pointing does not help to overcome the problem, but often aggravates it.

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  • O’Conell Et. Al., M. O. (2017, 30 marzo). Worldwide prevalence of tocophobia in pregnant women: systematic review and meta-analysis. Obstetrics and Gynaecology. https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/aogs.13138.
  • Pérez-Acosta, A. M., & González, A. P. (2010). Conducta de evitación: adquisición y extinción. Artículos en PDF disponibles desde 1994 hasta 2013. A partir de 2014 visítenos en www. elsevier. es/sumapsicol, 5(2), 207-231.
  • Ward, M. R., & Hofberg, K. (2004). Temor al parto, tocofobia y salud mental en las madres: interfase obstetricopsiquiátrica. Clínicas obstétricas y ginecológicas, (3), 501-509.