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Fear of childbirth

4-minute read

It’s normal for women to experience fear before they give birth — but there are things you can do to help manage this. If you’re distressed, it’s important to speak to your midwife or doctor.

Childbirth is often portrayed in films as a dramatic and painful process. But most women who have had a baby will tell you it’s different to what you see at the movies.

If you’re feeling fearful and stressed, this is not ideal for you or your baby. Talk to a healthcare professional or use some of the techniques below to help you cope.

Types of fears about childbirth

Fear of the unknown

Fear of childbirth can simply stem from not knowing what is going to happen. Sometimes first-time mothers may not feel confident that they can give birth. Other times, they may feel concerned about negative stories they have heard.

Fear of pain

It’s common to fear labour pain — especially if you’re a first-time mother. You may also fear a birth injury such as a tear to your perineal area.

Remember, there are many ways you can relieve pain during labour. Women who can relax and feel in control of their labour tend to find it less painful.

Fear of interventions during labour

There’s always a chance your doctor or midwife will need to assist you during labour. This is known as an intervention and it may include a caesarean section or an epidural.

The key to managing your fear about interventions is to learn more about childbirth. It will help you feel empowered and in control. You can do this by going to antenatal classes, reading educational material and talking to your healthcare team.

Fear of losing bodily functions

You’ve probably heard that women can unintentionally poo and wee during childbirth. It’s nothing to worry about — your doctor and midwife have seen it all before. They will discretely clean this up and you may not even realise it has happened.

Make sure you think carefully about who will be in the room with you and talk to them about your fear. Remember, many women open their bowels just before labour starts and don’t open them again until 48 hours after birth.

Fear of not being in control

The most common fear for women who have already had a baby is not being in control or being excluded from decisions during labour. Some women also find that a new pregnancy brings up unresolved emotions about previous difficult childbirth experiences.

It can help if you talk honestly about these feelings with your doctor and midwife — let them know your preferences.

Fear that you or your doctor won’t make it to the hospital in time

The first stage of labour may take longer than you expect. It takes on average 12 hours from when a first-time mother begins contractions until her cervix fully dilates and she can start pushing. It takes on average 8 hours for mothers who’ve given birth before. There is usually plenty of time to get to hospital.

Your doctor or midwife will make sure they or an appropriately qualified and experienced doctor or midwife will be there with you.

About 4 or 5 in every 1,000 births occur outside of a hospital or birth centre, or outside of a planned home birth. This may happen if your baby comes prematurely or you live in a remote area. To put your mind at ease, learn what to do if your labour comes early.

Ways to manage fear

Some available programs and techniques that may help you manage your fear of childbirth include:

When it’s something more serious

For a very small number of women, fear of childbirth can become overwhelming. This is called tokophobia. Sometimes the fear is so intense that women may avoid having babies altogether.

Other women may experience antenatal anxiety, depression, or post traumatic stress disorder following a difficult birth. These conditions are serious and need treatment.

Where to get help

If you are feeling fearful and overwhelmed, or your fears are affecting your life, contact:

You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to talk to a maternal child health nurse.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2019

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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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