Tocophobia is an intense fear of pregnancy or childbirth which plagues many women across the globe. Although this lesser-known phobia currently has no definitive cure, there are treatments available to help ease the burden.
Tocophobia In Context
Like other phobias, tocophobia is an anxiety disorder based on an irrational fear. When faced with pregnancy or childbirth, tocophobics can experience a range of symptoms, from panic and hyperventilation to palpitations, sweating and nausea.
Research by Hofberg and Brockington in 2000 identified two types of tocophobia:
- Primary tocophobia: generally pre-dates pregnancy and is characterized by an "unscrupulous use" of contraception. Research suggests this starts in adolescence,
- Secondary tochophobia: generally occurs after a traumatic delivery and often deters women from further pregnancies.
Although there are no statistics available in the U.S, evidence from the U.K suggests that one in six women suffered from tocophobia in 2010. More worryingly, these figures appear to be on the rise. With so many potential sufferers, let's take a look at how to get to rid of tocophobia.
In a study conducted at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, researchers explored the effect of relaxation techniques on male sufferers of tocophobia. Known as psychoprophylaxis, these relaxation techniques involved teaching men how to support the mother during labor and delivery, counselling sessions and parental training. These techniques had a positive impact on their experience of childbirth and were able to reduce the symptoms associated with tocophobia.The study also found that psychoprophylaxis reduced the need for emergency caesarian sections but had no real benefit prior to labor and delivery.
Early intervention may help control to ease stress and anxiety. Some suggestions for how to get rid of tocophobia in the early stages include:
- Expressing fears and concerns to a doctor, midwife or gynaecologist
- Attending prenatal classes
- Counselling sessions
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, can be used at any stage in life and will equip tocophobic women and men with techniques to control and overcome their fears.
If psychological methods are unable to help a patient overcome their tocophobia, antidepressants are another option. Doctors do not readily prescribe antidepressant medication to pregnant women or during breastfeeding due to fears of harming the fetus. However, research indicates that tricyclic antidepressants and SSRIs pose no risk to fetal development.
Much is still unknown as to whether or not antidepressants and/or psychological treatments work on how to get rid of tocophobia.It has not yet been fully investigated but they may be successful in treating some of the associated symptoms.
Getting the Right Delivery
Hofberg and Brockington's study of tocophobia has demonstrated the importance of the delivery method for pregnant women. In cases where women were denied the delivery method of their choice, rates of psychological morbidity increased. The answer of how to get rid of tocophobia, therefore, may be linked to ensuring the right labor and delivery.
Between 1996 and 2007, the number of U.S. women asking for a caesarean section increased by 53 percent, possibly as a result rising rates of tocophobia. A caesarean section differs from a traditional vaginal birth as it involves removing the baby from the womb via an incision along the abdomen. A caesarean section with full anaesthesia may be preferable for women with tocophobia but the recovery time is longer than a traditional delivery.
Managing labor pain is another way to reduce stress and anxiety for women with tocophobia. There are numerous sources of pain relief available for expectant mothers, such as gas and air or an epidural, and it is important that they are made aware of all their options. Some tocophobic women may benefit from giving birth in water as this offers a calmer environment and can offer some pain relief.
Until more research is conducted, getting rid of tocophobia may not be possible for every person who has it. There are, however, a range of treatments to help ease the associated symptoms and to help women and men control and overcome their anxieties and fears about pregnancy and childbirth.
ABC News: Fear of Childbirth, or Tocophobia, Plagues More Women Who Want Children
Priory: Use of Antidepressants During Pregnancy
Royal College of Psychiatrists: Tokophobia: An Unreasoning Dread of Childbirth
Science Daily: Psychoprophylaxis Helps Men With Tocophobia