Although early case studies have indicated that fear of childbirth can predate a woman’s first pregnancy, the concept of preconception fear of childbirth is largely unexplored. The few studies reporting on the prevalence of preconception fear of childbirth found higher levels than most prevalence estimates in pregnant populations. However, little is known about women’s fear of childbirth before becoming pregnant. The aim of this qualitative study was to give voice to the experiences of this often-neglected group of women.
To address the experiences and needs of women who do not dare become pregnant due to fear of childbirth, we conducted nine qualitative interviews and analyzed these using reflexive thematic analysis.
The women perceived childbirth as an extremely risky event and doubted their abilities to cope with it. With increasing age, the fear became more real. It was associated with thoughts of becoming too old to be able to conceive. The women did their best to cope with fear on their own by seeking information, trying not to think about it, and using multiple strategies to avoid becoming pregnant. Despite expressing a strong wish for professional support, they all described very limited opportunities to receive support from maternal care services. They felt abandoned, left on their own in a stressful and constantly ongoing negotiation with themselves, feeling the pressure to decide whether to dare become pregnant or not.
In this study, women expressed having experienced fear of childbirth long before a first pregnancy. They felt abandoned as they had to deal with their fear by themselves, without support from maternal care services. The results point to the necessity of an increased awareness of preconception fear of childbirth. We encourage maternal care services to consider their opportunities to support these women.