Toxophobia – Extreme Fear of Pregnancy or Childbirth

toxophobia hypnosis

What is Tokophobia (Tocophobia).

Fear of Pregnancy and Childbirth

The extreme end of the anxiety related to a Fear of Pregnancy or Childbirth is known as Tokophobia or Tocophobia.

Whilst it is completely normal to have some level of stress and anxiety, this is a severe condition which often leads to women avoiding getting pregnant, having an unnecessary c-section, or in extreme cases can lead to them having an abortion.  Although it mainly affects women, it can also affect men.

Defined by the NHS as “a specific phobia of childbirth, i.e. an overwhelming, debilitating fear of childbirth, which can be so intense that childbirth is avoided” (British Medical Journal 2018).

The ‘British Journal of Psychiatry’ in 2000 by Hofberg and Brockington defines Tokophobia (or Tocophobia) as an unreasoning dread of pregnancy and childbirth.

It is further classified into Primary Tokophobia (affecting  women who have never given birth) and Secondary Tokophobia (affecting women usually after a previous birth experience).

Symptoms can include suffering with panic attacks, extreme anxiety, nightmares, obsessive, all-consuming thinking about the birth, avoidance of information about birth if pregnant, insomnia, eating disorders or antenatal depression

Common Fears of Childbirth

Toxophobia is an anxiety disorder but common areas of fears experienced include:

  • Safety concerns often related to the fear of birth related procedures such as episiotomy and vaginal examination.
  • Fear of pain in labour and inability to cope with pain.
  • Fear of needles or fear of medical procedures.
  • Fear of the unknown, due to the unpredictable nature of birth.
  • Fear for the baby's health, possible birth trauma or developmental disorders.

Sometimes the fears are provoked by previous experience. It was found that the secondary fear of natural delivery was associated with emergency caesarean sections during the first pregnancies.

How Common is Tokophobia?

Fear of childbirth is often common and can be more intense in women who have not experienced childbirth.

About 20% of pregnant women report a level of fear, 6% as disabling.  With 13% of women report fear of childbirth sufficient to postpone or avoid pregnancy.

Primary Tokophobia

This affects women who have no experience of a previous pregnancy and usually develops during childhood or adolescence, often from other peoples horror stories of birth. It can also arise from a non-birth trauma, from past surgery unrelated to childbirth, sexual abuse or issues around body image. Sometimes there is an association with unplanned pregnancy, intimate partner violence, rape and sexual abuse.

Tokophobia and Men

Although the vast majority of our clients will be women who would be/had given birth, men can also experience tokophobia. Men with tokophobia often have a severe fear regarding the health and safety of their partner and child.

Secondary Tokophobia

In contrast to primary fears, secondary tokophobia can often develop after a previous pregnancy or delivery.

Typically it is due to a previous negative experience such as a traumatic birth, poor obstetric practice, lack of medical attention, or postpartum depression. Most often this is after a ‘traumatic’ delivery, an emergency c-section or instrumental vaginal delivery but Tokophobia can also occur after an obstetrically normal delivery. It can also occur after stillbirth, miscarriage or previous abortion.

Psychological trauma can often occur without physical trauma presenting as postnatal depression, generalised anxiety, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or even as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  This could mean you have obsessive behaviour for example constantly checking your baby


Jo helped me with my pregnancy anxiety, the session made a real difference. I'm planning on returning for some hypnobirthing sessions.

Why Treat Tokophobia Before Pregnancy

Fear and worry can cause you to make certain decisions that could prevent pregnancy from occurring in the first place. This includes consciously or unconsciously avoiding relationships with men who want to have children of their own, or completely avoiding sexual contact altogether, even to the point of evading any kind of romantic relationships.

Fear or worry can mean you could:
• Block becoming pregnant in the first place; consciously or subconsciously
• Avoid relationships with men who want biological children of their own
• Avoid sexual contact completely, including potentially avoiding relationships completely
• Terminate a wanted pregnancy or pursue adoption as a an option rather than childbirth.

Tips to Help With Tokophobia

Talk About Your Feelings

It is common to feel anxious in some situations and your doctor or midwife may be able to help. Reaching out to friends, family, and people you can trust for support can also prove beneficial. It's often said that a problem shared is a problem halved so don't hesitate to ask for help if you're feeling overwhelmed by anxiety.

Create a Birth Plan

It is essential to communicate with your Doctor about what you want and need during your pregnancy. Discuss your options for pain management, as well as how you would like to give birth - this will help you feel more in control and empowered - just don't make it too rigid!

Avoid Birth Horror Stories

When hearing the stories of others, the emotions it brings up may be overwhelming. A great way to counter this is to find quality medical information and focus on stories of successful childbirth experiences, whether it's from people you know or online. If someone has been sharing stories that you don't want to hear, politely ask them to stop.

Take a Prenatal Support Class

By taking the time to properly research and educate yourself on the labour process, including attending educational classes and researching possible interventions like pain management, you can be more prepared and confident as your due date nears.

Being aware of the different stages of labour and having a plan for how you want to handle any potential issues can give you an added sense of control over the process.

Talk to a Mental Health Professional

If your fear is impacting your life in any way, speak to your doctor about referring you to a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor for further advice and assistance. These professionals can help manage and cope with the fear as well as provide other valuable techniques for dealing with it.

Can You Help Tokophobia?

Hypnotherapy and HYNOBIRTHING & PREGNANCY ANXIETY tools can help most women feel more in control about their birth experience.  However, there is no one ‘right’ way to give birth, but Hypnobirthing can give you the psychological tools to adjust even if things don't go quite to plan.

However, we would first work to address the phobia and/or trauma involved so that hypnobirthing can then further enhance that work to empower the individual for birth.

Hypnotherapy can be an effective way to alleviate your anxiety and fears whilst teaching you strategies to empower you so you have more control over your thoughts and emotions.

Hypnobirthing teaches you to use relaxation, breathing, self-hypnosis and visualisation technicues so you can prepare for birth. You can also learn pain management skills and ways to boost your confidence and develop a positive attitude so you begin to change your expectation of birth.

The aim is for previously Tokophobic women to go into labour feeling in control.

I offer personalised sessions and will guide you through every step of your journey to parenthood.

I look forward to hearing from you so I can help you on the road with calm, confidence and clarity.

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