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02 February 2018
Volume 26 · Issue 2


Women with a severe fear of childbirth may request a caesarean section, but what does this mean for efforts to reduce medical interventions in birth? George Winter explains

Describing her reaction to a film on childbirth that was shown at her school, Dame Helen Mirren once commented: ‘I swear it traumatised me to this day. I haven't had children and now I can't look at anything to do with childbirth. It absolutely disgusts me’ (Shears, 2007).

One might infer that Dame Helen is a tocophobe: someone with a severe fear of childbirth. However, although tocophobia is defined as ‘an unreasoning dread of childbirth […] much of the published literature to date refers to tocophobia as a severe “Fear of Childbirth” rather than “an unreasoning dread of childbirth”’ (O'Connell et al, 2017: 908).

In the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of tocophobia, O'Connell et al (2017) found the pooled prevalence to be 14%, with Scandinavia at 12%, the rest of Europe at 8% and Australia at 23%. They also noted that prevalence had increased since 2000.

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