Tokophobia is a fear of childbirth and pregnancy and it’s affecting many women in Australia

April 22, 2021

Julia Jurgs gave birth to her daughter, Charlie, in 2020.(Supplied: Julia Jurgs )

Julia Jurgs always wanted children, but the thought of being pregnant and giving birth was one that made her sick to her stomach.

Her anxiety soared after she became pregnant with her first child in 2019.

“I was just starting to freak out,” Ms Jurgs told ABC Radio, Sydney.

“I could feel the sweat behind my knees. I could feel it in the crooks of my elbows. I was just panicking.

“Everyone else I knew who was pregnant couldn’t wait to give birth … I didn’t understand why — I didn’t have this maternal instinct.”

The 29-year-old knew what she was feeling wasn’t normal and raised her concerns during an antenatal appointment at the hospital.

Ms Jurgs was diagnosed with tokophobia – an extreme fear of childbirth and pregnancy.

“I couldn’t believe there was actually a term for it … finally, it all made sense,” she said.

Ms Jurgs is not alone.

Studies estimate that tokophobia affects between 2.5 to 14 per cent of women worldwide.

Dr Highet says those with a history of depression and anxiety are more at risk of tokophobia.(Supplied: Centre Of Perinatal Excellence)

Nicole Highet from the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) said while feeling anxious about childbirth was normal, for some women with tokophobia, this fear could become debilitating.

“The fear is so great that for many, they just avoid pregnancy altogether,” she said

People who have a history of anxiety or depression are more likely to be at risk of developing tokophobia.

Dr Highet said the condition could affect both women who had a traumatic pregnancy or delivery and those who have never had children.

“Hearing about other people’s horror birth stories will have a significant impact because it will reaffirm the catastrophic thoughts that someone has around birth,” she said.

In extreme cases, tokophobia can lead to women avoiding sexual contact, terminating a pregnancy, or choosing to adopt a child to try to avoid pregnancy and childbirth.

“Some may try and control the situation by electing to have a caesarean,” Dr Highet said.

For more information on Tokophobia or to find a skilled professional in your local area, you can search “Fear of Birth” on the e-COPE Directory.

Ms Jurgs opted for a caesarean section and gave birth to her daughter Charlie in March last year.

She sought out different treatments to help manage her tokophobia during her pregnancy.

“I did a lot of calming rituals, pregnancy massages, trying to relax and breathing a lot,” Ms Jurgs said.

“I just avoided thinking about being pregnant.”

While Ms Jurgs hopes to have another child via caesarean section, the idea of being pregnant again is one that concerns her.

“The actual pregnancy is weighing on my mind quite a bit,” she said.

While research around tokophobia is limited, Dr Highet says some treatments are providing hope.

“Things like cognitive behaviour therapy or psychological treatments can look at identifying exactly what the fear is,” she said.

“That gives the person a greater sense of control and can really help to alleviate the level of anxiety.”

Dr Highet said it was also helpful for pregnant women with tokophobia to plan and prepare with their maternity care providers.

“It is possible to recover and go on to have a positive birth experience,” she said.

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