The condition ‘tokophobia’ probably means nothing to you, but doctors warn that there’s a high chance you have it.
A study suggests that six in 10 American women have the phobia, which can result in bouts of anxiety, avoiding sex, or not feeling emotionally connected to their unborn child.
The findings come at a time when fewer women in the US are having children than ever before.
Tokophobia is the extreme fear of childbirth and pregnancy, according to Mayo Clinic.
A study published last month in the journal Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health found that more than half of women in the US had tokophobia, or the fear of childbirth, in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic
There are two subsets of the condition. Primary tokophobia occurs in people who have never been pregnant, and secondary tokophobia develops after a traumatic event during pregnancy or labor, such as difficult labor or stillbirth.
In some people, it stems from other fears, such as fear of pain (algophobia), fear of doctors (iatrophobia), and fear of children (pedophobia).
A study published last month in the journal Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health found that 62 percent of American women had high levels of fear and worry about childbirth.
Dartmouth College anthropologist Zaneta Thayer surveyed 1,800 American women in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, which the researchers say may have affected the results.
Half of the respondents – who had an average age of 31 – had never given birth, and more than one-third had previously experienced high-risk pregnancies.
The average American woman under 45 has 1.1 children, while the average man has 0.8, the National Center for Health Statistics reports
The number of American women with at least one child has fallen to just 52.1 percent, while the number of men dropped to 39.7 percent in 2019
The study has limitations, however.
Both the prenatal and postpartum data were collected during the first 10 months of the pandemic, at a time when the healthcare system was much more strained.
The same was also skewed more toward white and higher-income women. More than 86 percent of respondents were white, and approximately half had a median household income of at least 100,000 per year.
More than 86 percent of the women in the study said they were worried they wouldn’t have the support person they wanted in the hospital during labor due to the pandemic.
Other top concerns were that their babies would be taken away at birth if the mothers had Covid, that they would give Covid to their babies, and that they would be treated poorly by others if they had Covid.
The researchers also noted links between the fear and higher rates of postpartum depression and using formula in place of breastfeeding.
Despite the fact that most respondents were high-income white women, the researchers found that black mothers were almost twice as likely to have a strong fear of childbirth as white mothers.
This could be due to the fact that black mothers face almost three times the risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Data published this year from nonprofit March of Dimes Foundation found that 14 percent of black infants are born prematurely, compared to around nine percent of white babies.
The fear was also higher among women in disadvantaged communities, such as those with lower incomes and less education.
Single women were also more fearful than those in steady relationships.
As more women report having tokophobia, the birth rate in the US is gradually declining.
A report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a branch of the CDC, reported 3.7 million US births in 2019, a slight decrease from the previous year.
Over a five-year period, researchers surveyed 21,441 men and women aged 44 or younger across America to gather data on birthing and fertility.
They found that women were more likely to have children than men, were likely to become a parent at a younger age, and report more children on average.
Researchers found that 52.1 percent of women had at least one child.
This is a fall from 54.9 percent in 2015 – the most recent previous version of the survey – and a massive drop from the nearly 60 percent of under-45 women who were a parent in 2002.
An average US woman under 45 has 1.1 children, down from 1.3 in 2002. Men fell below the mark of one per member of the population in 2010, falling from 1.0 to 0.9. In 2019, the average man had 0.8 children.