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Fear of childbirth: a neglected dilemma



Severe fear of childbirth complicates 6% to 10% of parturients and is manifested as nightmares, physical complaints and difficulties in concentrating on work or on family activities. Very often fear of childbirth leads to request for an elective cesarean section (CS). In Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, fear of childbirth or maternal request is the reason for about 7–22% of CS births. Fear of childbirth is as common in nulliparous as in parous women. Fear of labor pain is strongly associated with the fear of pain in general, and a previous complicated childbirth or inadequate pain relief are the most common reasons for requesting a CS among parous women. Previous psychological morbidity and a great number of daily stressors expose a woman to a great risk of fear of childbirth. Fear of childbirth is not an isolated problem but associated with the woman's personal characteristics, mainly general anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression, and dissatisfaction with their partnership, and lack of support. Also the partners of women with fear have a certain pattern of low psychological well-being, resulting in low life-satisfaction, dissatisfaction with partnerships, and depression. A vivid debate about the woman's right to choose the mode of delivery is going on in obstetric literature, but discussion on the reasons for women to request a CS, or on the possibilities to help them overcome the fear of vaginal childbirth is scanty. Preliminary Swedish and Finnish reports demonstrated the results of treatment during pregnancy, when more than half of the women withdrew their request after being able to discuss their anxiety and fear, and vaginal deliveries after treatment were successful.