Women pregnant with their first child are no more likely to be frightened of giving birth than were first-time moms in years past, despite a growing focus on childbirth fears in the media and in medical research, Danish researchers say.
Dr. Maja Laursen of the University Hospital of Copenhagen and her team found that the percentage of women who reported "a lot" of anxiety about delivery held steady between 1997 and 2003, at about 7.5 percent.
"It's probably as it has always been and it probably has not changed," Laursen told Reuters Health. She noted that 80 percent of the women in the study reported having some anxiety about delivery. "It's not that some women have fear and the others do not have fear," she added. "Many women have some fear, we should maybe accept it as a normal thing."
More and more Danish women are opting for C-sections, and some researchers have suggested that this is because they are afraid of giving birth vaginally, Laursen and her colleagues note in their report in the medical journal BJOG. Some have also theorized that more highly educated, urban women are more likely to fear childbirth, Laursen added in an interview with Reuters Health.
To better understand the pattern of childbirth fears, she and her colleagues looked at over 30,000 Danish women who gave birth for the first time between 1997 and 2003 and were asked during pregnancy about their anxiousness concerning delivery.
The researchers found that women who were less educated, less socially connected, younger or unemployed were all more likely to fear childbirth, as were smokers and those who rated their health as poor. Having symptoms of anxiety increased the likelihood that a woman would fear childbirth nearly five-fold, while symptoms of depression more than doubled the risk.
Fear of childbirth can influence how the mother experiences delivery, and also the mother-child relationship, Laursen noted. It's possible, she added, that women who experience severe fear may be different psychologically than those who don't.
While therapy or counseling should be offered to pregnant women with severe anxiety about delivery, she said, there is no scientific evidence that this will actually help. "We should do more research to find out what is the best way to treat these women," Laursen concluded.