Posted: Apr 12, 2013 11:00 AM
 
Tocophobia is an intense fear of pregnancy or giving birth and it affects 6 - 10 percent of women. The anxiety can be crippling. And yet, there are very few resources available to treat this specific phobia. Strong social support and an understanding medical team are crucial.

Mild to moderate anxiety can be a very normal part of pregnancy. Fear of the unknown combined with significant hormonal shifts can cause worry and stress. But for some moms-to-be, overwhelming anxiety and fears can impede their daily living.

Women who experience tocophobia are likely to report experiencing symptoms of panic, including hyperventilation, rapid heart rate, sweating and nausea when confronted with thoughts about or images of pregnancy and delivery.

Tocophobia is a specific phobia characterized by an intense fear of pregnancy or giving birth. Some women who experience tocophobia have a previous history of depression, anxiety, and/or trauma (including previous traumatic birth). But for others, the anxiety often stems from the fear of the unknown. Either way, it can affect a woman's ability to function day-to-day and put the pregnancy at risk.

Women who experience tocophobia are likely to report experiencing symptoms of panic, including hyperventilation, rapid heart rate, sweating and nausea when confronted with thoughts about or images of pregnancy and delivery. Some women will avoid pregnancy at all costs, while others will experience significant stress throughout the pregnancy.

Take classes

Information increases preparedness and preparedness can decrease anxiety. Enroll in at least one birthing class (get several referrals from friends) and consider attending a weekly group for expectant moms. Ask plenty of questions at your medical appointments to familiarize yourself with the labor and delivery options available to you.

Social support

With or without crippling anxiety, expectant mothers need social support. Now is not the time to hide your feelings for fear of judgment. Maintain open communication with your spouse and other primary sources of support. Ask friends and family members to share positive pregnancy and birth stories. Hearing positive feedback can halt intrusive thoughts.

Practice relaxation

Deep breathing exercises can stop a panic attack, but they require practice.

  • Relaxation breathing: Lie down comfortably on the floor or your bed. Be sure to use pillows to prop yourself up, if necessary. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose for a count of four. Pay close attention to your stomach rising as you gradually fill your lungs with air. Hold for one second. Breathe out slowly through your nose for a count of four. Repeat for 3-5 minutes. Practice daily.
  • Guided imagery: You know how people joke about finding a happy place? That's actually not a joke at all. Creating a safe space in your mind gives you a place to escape when panic strikes. Get comfortable and use your relaxation breathing to get started. As you close your eyes visualize a calming place (it might be somewhere tropical or a beautiful forest). Fill your happy place with details as you breathe, and consider introducing a supportive figure in your life (a spouse or close family member). Visualization takes some practice and requires a quiet environment, but even five minutes per day can help you create a safe space to revisit when the anxiety becomes overwhelming.

Seek help

If classes, relaxation techniques and social support do little to curb your anxiety and panic, seek help. Ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy who also sees pregnant women. Strategies such as cognitive restructuring (testing the origins of your emotions for validation and replacing intrusive thoughts with positive ones) and exposures can be helpful in treating specific phobias, but you will need to seek treatment from a licensed professional.

Birth plan

Discuss your birth plan with your doctor as much as possible. Feeling like you have a plan might help ease some of the anxiety about the unknown. Be sure to talk about labor and delivery options early in your pregnancy and revisit your birth plan often. It's always good to be prepared.

More on pregnancy

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Stay comfortable during the third trimester
The top 5 things no one tells you about the third trimester

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