Psychological Topics (Apr 2016)

Severe fear of childbirth: Its features, assesment, prevalence, determinants, consequences and possible treatments

  • Gert A. Klabbers,
  • Hedwig J.A. van Bakel,
  • Marit M.A. van den Heuvel,
  • Ad J.J.M. Vingerhoets

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 25, no. 1


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The review summarizes the relevant literature regarding fear of childbirth. A substantial number of (pregnant) women are more or less afraid of childbirth and a significant minority; report a severe fear of childbirth. The focus will be on definition problems, its features, prevalence, assessment methods and measurements, determinants, consequences and treatment methods. To date, there is still no consensus about the exact definition of severe fear of childbirth. However, there is agreement that women with severe fear of childbirth are concerned about the well-being of themselves and their infants, the labor process, and other personal and external conditions. In studies on prenatal anxiety and fear of childbirth, various kinds of diagnostic methods have been used in the past. Recently, there is a consensus to determine severe fear of childbirth by using the Wijma Delivery Expectancy/Experience Questionnaire. The aetiology of fear of childbirth is likely to be multi-factorial and may be related to more general anxiety proneness, as well as to very specific fears. Furthermore, pregnant women are influenced by the many healthcare professionals, such as midwives, nurses, gynaecologists, therapists and pregnancy counselors and the interactions with them. Trying to design a universal treatment for fear of childbirth will not likely be the ultimate solution; therefore, future research is needed into multidisciplinary treatment and predictors to establish which therapies at the individual level are most effective and appropriate.