A phobia is an extreme, unreasonable fear in response to something specific. A phobia is only considered a problem when it keeps you from living a normal life. Common phobias include; heights, needles, confined spaces, bridges, spiders and insects.
Phobias of babies and childbirth
Some women can become fearful of their baby and develop a phobia of their baby. There can be many reasons for this (see section PTSD.)
Some women can become fearful of chilbirth and develop a phobia of childbirth (called Tokophobia.)
Women who have no past experience of trauma can also become overwhelmed with caring for their baby. This can lead to a loss of confidence and women find that their baby’s normal activities, such as waking, crying or feeding, fills them with dread and anxiety. This may then lead to avoidance of caring for the baby. These women therefore need support in order to help lessen their anxiety and rebuild their confidence.
“I started to fall to pieces and think that I was not coping as a mum and not doing things right and that I was failing as a mum. I completely abdicated from the role and let everyone else care for her. I thought they could do it better and I just got so scared of getting it wrong, every time she cried I panicked…in the end I wasn’t doing anything”.
People with social phobia have marked and persistant fear of social or performance situations in which the person feels she is being exposed to scrutiny by others. She would usually feel that she would act in a way, or show anxiety symptoms, that will be humilating or embarrassing.
This fear interferes with work and other ordinary activities.
Physical symptoms often accompany the anxiety of social phobia and include blushing, sweating, trembling, nausea, and difficulty talking.
Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation – such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, eating or drinking in front of others or, in its most severe form, a person may experience symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.
Social Phobia and Parenting
People with social phobia may have lived with it for a long time. For new mothers their role as a parent may provide an opportunity to overcome this or it may make things more difficult.
New mothers have to face many situations in which they or their baby are the focus of attention e.g. family get-togethers, Plunket or mothers groups. These situations may be very uncomfortable for someone with social phobia. However having a baby may encourage some women to feel less anxious as the focus may be on the baby.For some mothers there is extra motivation to overcome their social phobia for the benefit of their child.
Another concern for some mothers can be feeling that their parenting skills are being judged. This may discourage them from going out.
Breastfeeding in front of other people is something that any mother can be self conscious about initially. Breastfeeding in public or in front of others can be particularly anxiety provoking for mothers with social phobia. They often avoid it completely which can cause considerable inconvenience. They may give up breastfeeding completely due to their anxiety.
“When I was pregnant, everyone kept asking me how I was, offering advice and telling me what a fantastic mother I was going to be. I just got really angry because I didn’t want the attention, I would go bright red and my heart would race. Eventually I completely avoided going out at the end of my pregnancy so that no one could ask me when I was due or anything.”