30, 480 healthy women expecting a single child were surveyed in Denmark between 1997 and 2003. Two interviews were conducted. The first was undertaken at the 16th week of pregnancy where mothers provided social demographic information such as education level, whether they had a partner, their smoking/alcohol consumption/exercise habits and obstetric history. The second interview occurred in the 32nd week and the women were asked if they experienced anxiety or depression during the pregnancy. At both interviews, women were asked if they feared the impending childbirth.
Researchers found that the fear of childbirth in women is relatively consistent throughout pregnancy. The overall frequency of fear was experienced in 7.6% of women at interview one and 7.4% at interview two. 3.2% reported fear at both interviews.
The social factors observed to have contributed to this fear were: the lack of a social network, having an unskilled job or a vocational education, being a current smoker, young age and unemployment. In terms of their psychological state of mind, women were five times more likely to fear childbirth if they reported experiencing feelings of anxiety and twice more likely to fear childbirth if they had symptoms of depression.
Unlike previous studies on women’s fear of childbirth, this research is the largest study of its kind to date and is conducted at a national level.
Researchers recommend counselling for the fear of childbirth is provided to these women, as many tend to have fewer social and psychological resources to help them cope with their pregnancy. It was noted that the fear of childbirth should not be mistaken for the fear of the pain during childbirth since the former is a psychological fear. Therefore, the fear of childbirth cannot be resolved through the offer of an epidural since this only relieves a woman’s physical pain.
Dr Maja Laursen, from the University Hospital of Copenhagen, who led the study, said “It is commonly known that psychologically vulnerable women are more likely to have fear of childbirth. In addition, we found that women with less favorable social networks, lower education and young age experienced fear more often.
“Fear of childbirth was experienced early and throughout pregnancy in some women. Other women attained fear later in pregnancy and we believe that care providers should take this into account when planning screening and support for women with fear of childbirth.
“Fear of childbirth has received growing attention but we did not see an increase of nulliparous women with fear between 1997 and 2003.”
Professor Philip Steer, BJOG editor in chief, said “This study is interesting as it demonstrates how the fear of childbirth can have an affect on some women during pregnancy.
“These fears are not irrational and have a social and/or psychological root. Knowing what factors make some women more prone to this type of fear helps doctors and midwives to identify those most in need of extra support.”
BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is owned by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) but is editorially independent and published monthly by Blackwell Publishing. The journal features original, peer-reviewed, high-quality medical research in all areas of obstetrics and gynaecology worldwide. Please quote ‘BJOG' or ‘BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology' when referring to the journal.
For more information, please contact the RCOG press office on 020 7772 6446 or 020 7772 6357.
Laursen M, Hedegaard M, Johansen C. Fear of childbirth: predictors and temporal changes among nulliparous women in the Danish National Birth Cohort. BJOG 2008;115:354-360.