I'm currently pregnant and very worried about giving birth

Pregnancy is a time of change as our body and mind prepares to welcome a new baby to the world. Some anxiety in pregnancy is normal and often adaptive. In fact, many expectant parents worry about the health and wellbeing of their baby, how they will manage parenthood and how they will cope with the birth. These thoughts and feelings are understandable as we know that our minds tend to worry more about events when they are uncertain. We also know that our brains are also hardwired to pay more attention to potential threats when we are pregnant to keep ourselves and the baby safe. For some parents these worries about birth come and go, feel manageable and easy to move past.

However, some expectant parents find that their anxiety during pregnancy about childbirth feels very distressing, overwhelming, and consuming. This severe form of anxiety about childbirth is sometimes called “tokophobia”. There are two different types of “tokophobia”. “Primary tokophobia” is a longstanding fear of birth often present since childhood. “Secondary tokophobia” is anxiety that develops after a previous difficult birth experience. There are lots of reasons why we might be vulnerable to develop severe anxiety about childbirth or tokophobia. These can include your previous life experiences and how these have shaped your expectations of childbirth (e.g., previous birth experience, difficult life experiences and what other people have told you), your experience of pregnancy, physical changes, your current situation, and the support available to you.

The important thing to remember is that you are not alone in experiencing these unwanted and difficult feelings and that there are people who can support you.

What might I experience if I have severe anxiety about birth / tokophobia?

  • You might find that your thoughts about birth are consuming. You might find it very difficult to focus your attention on other things and this might make it difficult to go about your daily life.

  • Your worries about birth might lead you to feel difficult emotions such as fear, guilt, shame, or anger.

  • You might have tried to avoid thinking about and planning your birth. This may mean that you have avoided situations where you might have to talk to other people about your pregnancy and birth.  You might have also avoided buying things for the baby.

  • You might have avoided attending your midwifery and hospital appointments. If you have attended these appointments, you might have felt very anxious during them.

  • Your anxiety might lead you to do things such as excessively seeking reassurance, or over-researching things that you are worried about.

  • You might notice that your anxiety is affecting you physically. For example, you might feel tense, restless, or nauseous.

It is important to remember that everyone is unique. This means that some of the difficulties listed might not fit what you are experiencing or something that you are struggling with might not be listed.

What might help?

Ask for support

It is important to talk to your midwife as soon as possible about your fears about the birth. Talking to someone who can understand worries and answer any questions you might have can help to reduce anxiety. Your midwife will also be able to help you think about what your birth preferences are and what might help you to feel safe labour. They might also recommend a tour of the maternity unit if you are having a hospital birth. Sometimes, your midwife might suggest referring you to a specialist in emotional wellbeing such as a psychologist to support you during pregnancy.

Look at reliable information

When we are worried about something, it can be tempting to spend time looking on internet search engines for information. It is important to be careful when looking on the web as some sources of information might not be accurate. Each person is different and so each experience of childbirth can be different. Therefore, only speaking to a few close friends or family members can be problematic as they may only have their own experience to reflect on. Instead, it can be helpful to speak to health care providers such as your GP, midwife and obstetrician who should have access to up to date evidence-based information.

Access a childbirth review

If you previously had a difficult birth experience, it can sometimes be helpful to access a childbirth review with a Specialist Midwife. The childbirth review can provide you with time to talk through your previous birth experience with a Midwife, who will listen and provide information about your experience. This review is also an opportunity for you to ask any questions. If you would like an appointment to review your birth, you can ask your health visitor or GP to refer you to Birth in Mind, an NHS organisation who provide childbirth reviews across South Yorkshire. You can find out more about your local Birth in Mind service and self-refer by emailing:

Barnsley Birth in Mind

Doncaster and Bassetlaw Birth in Mind

Rotherham Birth in Mind

Sheffield Birth in Mind

Join an antenatal class

NHS antenatal classes can help you learn more about the labour process. It can help you to think about your preferences and learn techniques to support your wellbeing during the birth. Your Community Midwife will have more information about antenatal classes in your local area.