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Next course starting Thursday Aug 25

Birth anxiety, and Tokophobia, are they real?

Hypnobirthing Anxiety

Are you terrified about labour and birth? If so, you are not alone. It’s so common it even has a name – Tokophobia.

Tokophobia is defined as a severe fear or dread of childbirth. Whilst many women might not be given a formal diagnosis of tokophobia, in my experience the prevalence is growing as more women, and their partners, report being so scared of giving birth that they’d rather choose an elective caesarean birth when there is no medical indication for doing so.

How and when fear of childbirth presents can vary between individuals. There are considered to be 2 categories of tokophobia.

Primary Tokophobia is experienced prior to having a first baby. Do any of these scenarios resonate with you:

  • Perhaps a general fear of giving birth has been something that has put you off starting a family?

  • It’s possible you were so focused on the goal of becoming pregnant that you didn’t let yourself think about how your baby will come earthside until after the excitement of that second line on your pregnancy test wore off?

  • Has your pregnancy been diagnosed as ‘high risk’?

  • Have you experienced concerning test results?

  • Or maybe you’ve only just started feeling a state of panic creeping into your thoughts as you due date looms ever closer?

Secondary Tokophobia might occur as a result of a previous pregnancy or negative birth experience.

  • A previous pregnancy loss, miscarriage, or birth of a stillborn baby.

  • Perhaps a previous birth may have resulted in a physical health injury.

  • Having a previous birth experience that you consider psychologically traumatic with ongoing negative thoughts when recalling the experience.

What are the signs and symptoms of Tokophobia?

Tokophobia is more than just worrying about what birth will be like. For some anxious thoughts can be overwhelming. They can be intrusive and accompanied by the understanding that you have no control over them, it may seem impossible to reassure yourself with logical thinking. Birth anxiety might also include having a general sense of never feeling calm or unstressed, always on edge. Many people who experience Tokophobia describe having a heightened emotional response, they may become upset, or angry over seemingly trivial issues. It’s common to experience difficulty sleeping and so feeling tired adds to the sense that the negative thoughts make it difficult to concentrate on other things.

The physical symptoms of anxiety vary which makes it seem harder to treat – we all do anxiety a little bit differently. For some people there will be a feeling of panic or dread, perhaps a knot in your stomach, or feeling nauseous. Some people describe feeling pressure or tension in their chest, possible feel like it’s harder to breathe or even experience heart palpitations. Others describe tension headaches, or muscle tension. Occasionally a spike in anxious thoughts can lead to a full-blown panic attack, which might include; hyperventilating, pins and needles in the hands, feet or lips, trembling, weakness or dizziness, sweating or chest pain.

Is all worrying in pregnancy harmful?

You might find it reassuring to know that it’s quite normal to have some sense of trepidation about what’s ahead. Being concerned can be useful by helping you to seek out information, and promote healthy behavioural changes that reduce risks. Feeling as if the baby is dominating your thoughts is something many people describe, after all having a baby is a major life transition and many families have very real practical considerations to plan and organise at the same time. Sometimes concerns over loss of income, moving house, changing lifestyles can seem overwhelming.

But when those negative thoughts become overwhelming thoughts, intrusive thoughts, if you don’t feel like you have any control over them, or if you rarely feel calm or unstressed, then it’s time to do something about it.

In addition to birth anxiety having an impact on your physical and mental health, there are studies that report the many possible serious long-term effects of high levels of anxiety on both Mum and baby. Severe maternal anxiety has been shown to have an impact on the child in other ways. A high level of maternal anxiety may also affect birth weight. Chronic anxiety can lead to later emotional problems, lack of concentration and hyperactivity, as well as cognitive changes due to increased stress hormones. It’s possible that high anxiety in pregnancy can lead to behavioural effects in the newborn, such as irritability and prolonged crying. And can have other medical effects into adulthood with increased risk of asthma and coronary disease being suggested.

Should you just get over it?

Some people mistakenly think they just have to ‘suck it up’ or try to ignore these negative thoughts and feelings, they may presume they’ll just feel better after their baby is born. However, it is known that fear and anxiety in pregnancy is likely to have a negative impact on your birth experience. Research very clearly shows the impact anxiety and stressful thoughts can have on the essential birth hormones. The thoughts you have, don’t just stay in your mind- they impact your physiology. It’s very hard to have a positive birth experience when you are dreading it.

If you recognise that you are experiencing tokophobia or severe birth anxiety you can actively start to have strategies to change what you are experiencing.

Seeking professional help

You can reduce, or even eliminate the fear. Many people try counselling, and talking about their fear can bring a sense of relief in the short term for some people. A psychologist will have some useful general strategies for relieving anxiety. For those dealing with secondary Tokophobia it can be helpful to debrief your previous negative experience with your health care provider.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to treat any phobia is with hypnotherapy. Whilst Tokophobia might seem complex and dominating, you can be reassured that there is help available.

If you have signs and symptoms of Tokophobia it is recommended you find a qualified clinical hypnotherapist who specialises in birth anxiety, birth trauma, or pregnancy related phobias will have a range of strategies to help.

The most wonderful thing about hypnotherapy as a treatment in pregnancy is that it is completely natural. Many people choose to avoid medications in pregnancy to avoid any unknown effects on their developing baby.

Hypnotherapy is different from other talking therapies. It is a short-term approach. Using appropriate hypnotic devices, you can expect instantaneous changes, as well as long term improvement or symptom reduction.

Combining hypnotherapy with a hypnobirthing course can be particularly beneficial.

Hypnobirthing classes with A Focused Birth are specifically designed to give you different tools and techniques that you can use to calm your nervous system. You will learn several ways to change your focus away from negative thinking which allow you to be in control of your thoughts and emotional response in unfamiliar situations.

The hypnobirthing preparation you choose should not be solely focused on the birth. Carefully crafted audio tracks will be valuable throughout your pregnancy. The sense of relaxation is always welcome during pregnancy as your mind is often preoccupied with the plans and coming to terms with a life transition, on top of the busy-ness of normal daily life. Not to mention the physical tiredness that seems to be experienced by many people growing another person. Another benefit of learning these techniques is the potential for positively influencing other aspects of your life, not only your pregnancy.

What else can you do to help reduce negative thoughts in pregnancy?

Find time in your day to relax and unwind

Sometimes we are so busy that consciously relaxing doesn’t seem like a priority. Perhaps you are keeping busy to serve as a distraction from the Tokophobia. The more you intentionally choose to use simple techniques to slow your breathing, the more you will realise how easy it can be.

Prioritise sleep

Insomnia often accompanies, and exacerbates, anxiety. Addressing any bad sleep habits may be very beneficial. Sleep hygiene talks about the circumstances and habits around your sleeping routine. Good habits include: A cool and comfortable room temperature. Not associating the bedroom with anything other than sleep and intimacy. Not watching screens at least an hour before bed. Reducing caffeine intake from after lunch. Maintaining a routine bedtime.

Getting restful sleep can be harder when pregnant, so enjoy the chance of a brief rest or nap in the day if you are tired. Using additional pillows for support is likely to help.

Being physically active can have several benefits

Moving your body, getting outdoors, increasing feel good hormones are all proven to help reduce anxiety. It doesn’t have to be too energetic. Gentle Yoga, walking, dancing, and swimming can lower stress hormones.

Avoid negative stories or recounts about birth

This one can be tricky- people love to share their experiences with pregnant people. Maybe they think they are being helpful- telling you what to avoid, but it rarely is. People don’t realise their experience now has context. The language they use comes from a place of understanding what birth was – for them. Their birth is behind them and was based on all the individual circumstances that lead them to that point. We are all unique. All births are unique.

I have been told by several women that none of their family and friends have had a natural birth without pain relief. This may or may not be surprising to some of you, it might be your experience too. Whilst this in itself does not mean those people didn’t have a positive birth experience, it means that you are likely to have a skewed understanding about what is possible. Meaning childbirth can seem to be literally ‘impossible’.

It makes sense that if you fill your awareness with positive birth stories you will have a greater expectation that birth can be a positive experience. You might ask people to hold off talking about their experience until after your baby is born. Social media and social forums confront us with so many different experiences, and they are unfiltered- it’s advisable to avoid the risk of hearing horror stories.

Become informed. Knowledge is power

Enrolling in a quality antenatal education course can be very useful. You’ll learn about what you can expect in labour and childbirth. You may find that your fears are reduced by understanding how you can work with your body to enhance your birth experience.

A hypnobirthing course can be particularly beneficial to reduce the anxiety that comes with the unknown.

Many Hypnobirthing classes promote having a natural birth. With A Focused Birth the course is uniquely designed to give you practical information about a whole range of possible labour outcomes, as well as different tools and techniques that you can use to calm your nervous system. You will learn several ways to change your focus away from negative thinking which allow you to be in control of your thoughts and emotional response in unfamiliar situations.

The hypnobirthing preparation you choose should not be solely focused on the birth. Carefully crafted audio tracks will be valuable throughout your pregnancy. The sense of relaxation is always welcome during pregnancy as your mind is often preoccupied with the plans and coming to terms with a life transition, on top of the busy-ness of normal daily life. Not to mention the physical tiredness that seems to be experienced by many people growing another person. Another benefit of learning these techniques is the potential for positively influencing other aspects of your life, not only your pregnancy.

Talk with a supportive person

You may have a friend, colleague or support line to confide your worries to. Sometimes simply saying things out loud can help. It’s important to know that you are not alone. When they know what you are dealing with, your social supports have the opportunity to adjust their words and actions to be more supportive.

Make sure their philosophy aligns with yours around what you would like for your labour and birth. When there’s a missmatch, the conflicting thoughts can lead to a sense of judgement.

Keep a journal or creative writing notepad

Writing can help to organise your thoughts and feelings. It may simply be a safe place to share your thoughts without judgement. And it can also help you recognise common triggers. Writing can help stop your thoughts looping. Especially if you then seek clarity for any potential unanswered questions.

Speak to your GP or health care provider

Speaking up about your fears is likely to lead to you getting the support you need. Your GP should be able to refer you to the appropriate professional support. The sooner you address the issue, the sooner you’ll be able to feel better and that will benefit you and your baby.

At You Hypnotherapy, Justine’s knowledge from years of experience in the birth room can be invaluable as you debrief. She can clarify any unanswered questions about why certain things were done or said during your past experience. Provide practical advice and reassurance about any concerns what you might expect during birth. She can add context to some of the harmful stories or recounts you might have heard or read. And most importantly she has the benefit of specialist Hypnotherapy Training to change the way you feel about your problem.

Midwife led Australia wide online antenatal and hypnobirthing class

I have over 20 years experience as a midwife in the UK and Australia, working in both private and public hospitals. I have helped thousands of women in every scenario, from homebirths and water-births, births with complex issues, intervention, and caesarean births.

I currently work in a busy Melbourne Hospital, and am passionate about supporting women and families be as relaxed and confident as they can be whatever the circumstances. I divide my time as a midwife between the Birth Centre and the Child Birth Education Team. This means I am upto date with current research, policies and procedures when it comes to all things birth related.

In addition, I am a government accredited Clinical Hypnotherapist, with an Honours degree in Psychology. In my private practice I specialise in treating anxiety, trauma, fertility issues, pain management and phobias, as well as hypnobirthing techniques.

Bringing together these sets of skills, knowledge, and experience I can guide and prepare you to have the positive birth experience that you desire.

What A Focused Birth childbirth education offers you

  • Comprehensive antenatal classes developed and facilitated live by a registered Midwife and Childbirth educator
  • Access to additional resources and recommended reading
  • Toolbox of relaxation techniques, coping strategies, active birth principles
  • Breathing techniques
  • In depth breastfeeding information
  • Chance to ask questions relevant to your individual circumstances
  • Birth Preference Customisable Template
  • Comprehensive customisable ‘What to pack’ lists
  • Huge list of positive affirmations to choose from
  • Opportunity to address personal issues, such as previous traumatic experiences
  • Opportunity to upgrade to include individual hypnotherapy sessions
Justine Daly, Midwife and Childbirth educator

Online antenatal and hypnobirthing class
only $399 per couple

Next course starts Thursday Aug 25

Dates and booking options