The characteristics and prevalence of phobias in pregnancy

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Objective: The primary objective was to estimate the population prevalence of specific phobias (including pregnancy related specific phobias) and associated mental disorders. The secondary objective was to investigate the effectiveness of routinely collected screening tools (depression and anxiety screens, Whooley and GAD-2 respectively) in identifying specific phobias. Specific phobias are the most common anxiety disorder to occur during pregnancy, but studies on prevalence and clinical correlates of specific phobias, including pregnancy related specific phobias are lacking.
Design: Cross-sectional survey using a two-phase sampling design stratified according to being positive or negative on the Whooley questions routinely asked by midwives. Approaching all whooley positive women and drawing a random sample of Whooley negative women. Sampling weights were used to account for the bias induced by the stratified sampling.
Participants: 545 pregnant women attending their first antenatal appointment. Language interpreters were used where required.
Setting: Inner-city maternity service, London, UK.
Measurements: The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis I Mental Disorders were administered to assess mental disorders and 544 women responded to the anxiety module on specific phobias.
Results: The maternity population prevalence estimate for specific phobias was 8.4% (95%CI: 5.8 – 12.1%) and for pregnancy related phobias was 1.5% (95%CI: 0.6 – 3.7%), most of which were needle phobias. The prevalence estimate of tokophobia was 0.032% (95%CI: 0.0044–0.23%). Over half (52.4%) the women with specific phobias had comorbid mental disorders. Routinely administered screening tools (Whooley and GAD-2) were not helpful in identifying phobias.
Key conclusions and implications for practice: Phobias in pregnancy are common but pregnancy related phobias are rare, particularly tokophobia. As routinely administered screening tools were not helpful in identifying phobias, other indicators could be considered, such as avoidance of blood tests and requests for caesarean sections.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date28 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


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