Patients with pregnancy phobias suffer from a panic fear of pregnancy or childbirth. The phobias are often preceded by traumatic experiences such as birth complications or stillbirths. Therapy consists of talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
What is pregnancy phobia?
Anxiety disorders are also known as phobias. This is a group of mental disorders characterized by an excessive fear of a particular situation, living being, or object. One such anxiety disorder is what is known as tokophobia. See bestitude for Meanings of Metabolic Alkalosis.
Better known as pregnancy phobia, this mental disorder is characterized by a pathological fear of the events of pregnancy and childbirth. Different forms of tokophobia are distinguished. In addition to a primary pregnancy phobia, there is a secondary form. The two forms differ fundamentally in their causes. The former variant corresponds to a lifelong form that cannot be traced back to a specific event.
Not every woman who is afraid of pregnancy or childbirth suffers from pregnancy phobia. In addition to the degree of fear, the behavior of the women affected is decisive. Many of them, for example, consistently refuse to become pregnant. Others remain celibate or even allow themselves to be sterilized out of fear.
The causes of a manifest pregnancy phobia can be of different kinds. For example, many women develop tokophobia in the context of postportal mood crises. Postpartum mood crises are depressive moods during the confinement period, which can serve as a breeding ground for various phobias.
Apart from this context, pregnancy phobias also often appear after traumatic events such as a stillbirth, a forceps delivery or an unplanned cesarean section. In these cases, the women affected have experienced birth pains and birth complications firsthand: their fear therefore has real reference points.
In yet other cases, a partnership conflict is the primary trigger of pregnancy phobias. According to studies, the exaggerated fear of pregnancy can also be family-related. Mothers can transmit the phenomenon to their daughters, for example.
The psychological inheritance of pregnancy phobias is often observed, especially in families with negative attitudes towards sexuality. Sexual abuse has also been associated with tokophobia in isolated cases.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Women with pregnancy phobia suffer from an exaggerated fear of the event of pregnancy and child birth. In individual cases, this fear can cause physical symptoms such as hot flashes, sweating and breathing problems. The drastic state of anxiety can also affect the blood pressure and pulse of the affected women.
Many of those affected have no children and will continue to refrain from having children or planning a family in the future because of the panic fear. In some cases, people choose to be sterilized as a precaution, or they request sterilization from their partners. In extreme cases, patients generally abstain from sexual activities in order to eliminate all risks of pregnancy.
If pregnancy occurs despite excessive precautions, those affected usually opt for an abortion. If it is not the pregnancy but the birth that worries women, they choose a caesarean section instead of a natural birth.
Diagnosis & course of disease
Pregnancy phobias often go undiagnosed. In many cases, the women affected do not turn to the outside world with their abnormally strong fears. This is especially true for women who have experienced abuse or who have grown up in families with negative attitudes towards sexuality.
In principle, the psychologist makes the diagnosis of tokophobia. The decisive factor is the differential diagnostic distinction from natural fears of pregnancy and childbirth, such as those that can occur in younger mothers, for example.
As a rule, those affected by pregnancy phobia suffer from a strong fear of the birth of a child and of the birth process itself. This fear can lead to profuse sweating or breathing difficulties when the subject is discussed. Anxiety and high blood pressure can also occur due to illness and have a very negative effect on the quality of life of those affected.
Occasionally, offspring planning is also affected, which can lead to complaints and problems in a relationship with the partner. Because of their pregnancy phobia, many patients also have themselves sterilized in order to prevent a possible pregnancy. In severe cases, the affected person can also terminate the pregnancy.
As a rule, pregnancy phobia can only be treated by a psychologist or a therapist. There are no special complications during the treatment, although a positive course of the disease cannot always be guaranteed. Couples therapy may also solve this phobia. The life expectancy of those affected is usually unaffected by this phobia.
When should you go to the doctor?
The pregnancy phobia does not require medical treatment as long as it does not affect the life of the affected person. If there is no desire to have children and the sex life is still satisfactory for both partners, there is no reason to see a doctor. On the other hand, the doctor must be consulted if this leads to sexual problems such as listlessness or the affected patient feels a desire to have children and other ways such as adoption are out of the question, which could avoid pregnancy.
An appointment with the family doctor is sufficient, who will then refer you to a psychologist with the suspicion of pregnancy phobia. First of all, it is determined whether it is a primary pregnancy phobia that has always existed, or a secondary pregnancy phobia that only arose over time as a result of certain negative experiences or for unknown reasons. Both forms have different causes and must be treated differently. If the suffering is due to the fact that the sex life suffers from the pregnancy phobia, then the doctor’s appointment is necessary as soon as the person concerned wants to change something about it.
If, on the other hand, there is a desire to have children despite pregnancy phobia, a doctor should be consulted even if the desire to have children is not yet concrete. Because the treatment of the phobia will take time and the time of a possible pregnancy can be postponed further than intended.
Treatment & Therapy
The pregnancy phobia is ideally treated causally. For causal therapy, the cause must first be clarified. In talk therapy, the psychotherapist determines the triggering event. Cognitive behavioral therapy approaches can be useful for causal treatment.
With these therapies, the patient is given the opportunity to question his own attitude towards certain facts and situations. The patient’s negative associations are exchanged for positive or neutral associations by the therapist. For cognitive behavioral therapy to work, the patient must be of sound mind and willing to cooperate.
The re-evaluation of situations already experienced can dissolve the fear of pregnancy, especially if the fear is completely irrational or inherited from the outside. In women with traumatic birth events, therapy can be longer-term and more difficult. Some of the easiest to treat are patients who have been instilled with negative attitudes toward sex through their families.
In most cases, this negative attitude can be adjusted by means of re-evaluations. If the causal therapy does not bear fruit, symptomatic therapy can be carried out. The focus of this mostly drug-based form of therapy is the patient’s quality of life. Ideally, those affected are at least relieved of their panic attacks by administering medication.
The fewer symptoms the patients show, the more their quality of life often improves. In the case of pregnancy phobias caused by the partnership, couples therapy may be necessary to resolve the conflict.
Pregnancy phobias can be prevented. After complicated births, complicated pregnancies or birth-related trauma, a psychotherapist or psychologist should be consulted. Together with the specialist, the trauma that has been experienced can be processed.
Since family and partnership conflicts can also contribute to the development of tokophobia, psychotherapeutic care should also be sought in these cases. Even more important is this support after cases of abuse, which usually cannot be dealt with by those affected on their own.
In the case of pregnancy phobia, the options for direct follow-up care are usually significantly limited and in many cases are not even available to the person concerned. Therefore, the affected person should ideally consult a doctor at an early stage so that complications or other symptoms do not arise later.
The earlier a doctor is consulted, the better the further course of this disease is usually. As a rule, a complete cure cannot take place, whereby the disease itself does not have a negative effect on the patient’s life expectancy and does not reduce it either. The treatment of pregnancy phobia can be done through various therapies.
In many cases, the patients are dependent on the support of the family, whereby the help of the partner can also be decisive for the recovery process. Contact with other people affected by the disease can also be very useful, as this leads to an exchange of information, which can make everyday life easier for the patient. The further course of the pregnancy phobia depends very much on the exact characteristics, so that a general course cannot usually be predicted.
You can do that yourself
In many cases, the phobia of pregnancy can also be alleviated or completely eliminated through self-help in everyday life. Two cases must be distinguished in this context: women in whom pregnancy phobia focuses on the fear of failure of the chosen contraceptive method, and those affected who fundamentally want a pregnancy but are afraid of it.
When it comes to contraception, women should rely on a method with a Pearl Index for high demands. Sterilization can also be considered for women who do not wish to have children and who are severely afraid of pregnancy, especially if the patient is a bit older.
In the case of pregnancy phobia and simultaneous desire to have children, discussions with gynecologists and midwives help to concretize and overcome fears with regard to pregnancy and childbirth. In difficult cases or with a negative history, going to a psychologist can also help to overcome the phobia. Discussions with mothers and their experiences can also be helpful for those affected.
If the pregnancy is planned or has already occurred despite the phobia, many relaxation methods are helpful to strengthen mental balance. These include progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacobsen, autogenic training and various forms of yoga. In particular, Yin Yoga or Yoga with increased meditative components are often a valuable support in this context.