Objective: To investigate Swedish women's level of antenatal fear of childbirth at various gestational ages, and factors associated with intense fear and with preference for cesarean section.
Design: A cross-sectional study.
Setting: All antenatal clinics in four geographical areas.
Sample: Thousand six hundred and thirty-five pregnant women at various gestational ages recruited during September-October 2006.
Method: A questionnaire completed at the antenatal clinic. The women reported their appraisal of the approaching delivery according to the Wijma Delivery Expectancy/Experience Questionnaire (W-DEQ).
Main outcome measures: The level of fear of childbirth and preferred mode of delivery.
Results: Mean W-DEQ score was 62.8. The prevalence of intense fear of childbirth (W-DEQ score > or =85) was 15.8% and very intense fear (tocophobia) (W-DEQ score > or =100) 5.7%. Nulliparous women had a higher mean score than parous women, but more parous women reported an intense fear. Preference for cesarean section was associated with fear of childbirth (OR 11.79, 6.1-22.59 for nulliparous and OR 8.32, 4.36-15.85 for parous women) and for parous women also with a previous cesarean section (OR 18.54, 9.55-35.97), or an instrumental vaginal delivery (OR 2.34, 1.02-5.34). The level of fear of childbirth was not associated with the gestational age.
Conclusions: When a woman requests a cesarean section, both primary fear of birth and traumatic childbirth experiences need to be considered and dealt with. The W-DEQ can be used at any time during pregnancy in order to identify pregnant women who suffer from intense fear of childbirth.