In many cultures, pregnancy is often celebrated as a beautiful and wonderful thing. And it definitely is. However, there’s an unspoken belief that a woman is more “feminine” and “womanly” if she has an easy and enjoyable pregnancy. There’s also an implicit belief in our society that planning for a natural birth is preferred and the ideal way to give birth. But what isn’t often talked about is the reality that many women have fears associated with becoming pregnant and giving birth and that pregnancy can be, at times, an uncomfortable and sometimes painful experience. In fact, one study found that almost 80% of the pregnant women surveyed experienced worries and fears related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Some of the most common fears that women have about pregnancy and childbirth concern:
- The health and well-being of both the mother and child
- Medical professionals and their support or lack thereof
- Family life
- Cesarean section
- The process of childbirth itself
Another study identified ten main fears that many women experience when thinking about pregnancy and childbirth:
- Fear of not knowing and not being able to plan
- Fear of harm to the baby
- Fear of pain
- Fear of harm during labor or after childbirth
- Fear of having medical decisions made for you and about you
- Fear of not being able to advocate for oneself during labor and childbirth
- Fear of being alone
- Fear about one’s body being able to successfully give birth
- Fear of a loss of control
- Fear of giving birth without having a specific reason
These fears can come from many different sources including past personal experiences with pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and childbirth, but it can also come from a personal history of trauma, the experiences and stories from other people, and sometimes irrational fears. For example, you may have watched a documentary describing the birth process in great detail, or heard a story about an acquaintance who had to have an emergency c-section, or about someone who gave birth at home because she couldn’t get to the hospital in time. These stories tend to be more sensational and memorable while the stories of “uneventful” births often fly under the radar and are quickly forgotten.
In addition, because these fears aren’t often talked about in social circles, many women may wonder if they are normal for having fears about getting pregnant and childbirth. They may feel hesitant to bring up their fears to their friends, family, or medical professionals for fear that they will be judged for having those fears. Instead, it might feel like using hormonal birth control is the only way to address these fears through eliminating ovulation and, along with it, the possibility of becoming pregnant. However, this can feel like a situation of catch-22 because using hormonal birth control comes with the risk of side effects like mood changes, gastrointestinal distress, vitamin deficiencies, and the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, pulmonary embolism, and gallbladder disease.
What do you do if you REALLY don’t want to get pregnant?
Is using birth control the only option for women who have fears about getting pregnant or giving birth? The short answer is that, while it is very normal to have these types of fears, there are more empowering ways women can take charge of their health and manage their fertility without risking the side effects of hormonal birth control. And fertility awareness methods (FAM) are a great option for preventing pregnancy at effectiveness rates that rival pharmaceutical birth control. The fertility charting app Natural Cycles has been approved by the FDA as an effective form of birth control. Some women feel less fearful of getting pregnant after learning how to read when their bodies are naturally fertile and infertile.
Some women have intense fears of becoming pregnant because they cannot imagine having a child at that time or are not feeling secure in their relationship. Others may have a genetic disorder that could be passed down to future children or have had medical complications with past pregnancies, and these might be weighing heavily on their minds. If you are feeling pregnancy fears, remember that it is very normal to experience these fears and that many women do.
For those growing their family, try to let go of the “perfect pregnancy”
It is very normal to have pregnancy fears on your mind and to want to have a safe and healthy pregnancy. This doesn’t make you any “less” of a woman, especially if it will be your first pregnancy, you’ve experienced infertility or pregnancy loss in the past, you’ve heard “horror” stories from your friends, or you are in an at-risk category.
However, it is important to let go of the pressure to have a “perfect” pregnancy or to have expectations for what you think your pregnancy should be like. Ask any woman who has been pregnant and she will tell you that it’s important to be flexible and to let go of any artificial pressure to have a “perfect” pregnancy.
Instead of focusing on your fears or the pressure of having a perfect pregnancy and childbirth experience, it can be more empowering to focus on understanding how your body works and how you can work with your body to have the best experience. While someone may have reminded you that women have been giving birth to future generations for millennia, taking the time to understand exactly how your body is designed to accomplish the amazing feat of growing another human being is a much more empowering way to tackle your fears than a dismissive platitude.
Tokophobia: When childbirth and pregnancy fears become debilitating
In rare cases, a woman may experience pregnancy fears that are so extreme they cause symptoms of stress that can affect daily functioning, as well as a wish to have a cesarean section (c-section) or avoid pregnancy and childbirth altogether. These symptoms may be signs of the rare condition known as tokophobia—a pathological dread of childbirth and/or pregnancy. It is important to remember that normal pregnancy and childbirth fears are common, and they are not debilitating or overwhelming to the same extent as tokophobia. Women who have tokophobia can seek treatment in cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, medication, or hypnobirthing techniques.
Help for general pregnancy fears
If you aren’t pregnant yet, starting to chart your cycle using a FAM model is a great place to start understanding your body and your fertility. Working with a FAM instructor can help you naturally avoid pregnancy by knowing your body’s fertile times. Working with a midwife, doula, can help you expand your understanding of your fertility, what is happening during pregnancy, and how your body is designed to give birth.
Try not to let your fears prevent you from understanding your body and the amazing things it can do. Empower yourself by educating yourself and working with qualified professionals to help you understand what you can do to feel confident instead of fearful about pregnancy and childbirth.
 Hanna-Leena Melender R. Experiences of Fears Associated with Pregnancy and Childbirth: A Study of 329 Pregnant Women. Birth. 2002;29(2):101-111. doi:10.1046/j.1523-536x.2002.00170.x
 Slade P, Balling K, Sheen K, Houghton G. Establishing a valid construct of fear of childbirth: findings from in-depth interviews with women and midwives. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2019;19(1). doi:10.1186/s12884-019-2241-7
When this article refers to fertility awareness methods (FAM), or natural family planning (NFP), we are referring to Fertility Awareness-Based Methods, evidence-based methods of cycle charting which can be used as effective forms of natural birth control when learned by a certified instructor.