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In 2000, an article published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (2000, 176: 83-85) described the fear of childbirth 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).
Phobia of childbirth, 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 women 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.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
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.
Primary and secondary tokophobia
- Primary tokophobia is the fear of childbirth which pre-dates pregnancy and can start in adolescence.
- Secondary tokophobia is due to a previous negative experience regarding traumatic birth, poor obstetric practice or medical attention, postpartum depression or other such upsetting events.
Both forms of tokophobia can be treated with the assistance of a trained medical professional or psychologist.
- Hofberg & Brockington (2000)