Anxious times ... Fear of childbirth is thought to affect between 5 and 20 percent of all women.

Anxious times ... Fear of childbirth is thought to affect between 5 and 20 percent of all women.

Women who are afraid of childbirth spend longer in labour than those who aren’t – and also have a higher chance of needing an emergency caesarean, according to new research.

More than 2000 women took part in a Norwegian study on the topic, first doing a questionnaire to rate how they felt about labour when they were pregnant. Of the group, 7.5 percent were labelled as having a fear of childbirth.

Women who had a fear of childbirth spent around an hour and a half longer birthing their children than those who weren’t afraid 

When the women into labour, the researchers found that the women who had a fear of childbirth spent around an hour and a half longer birthing their children than those who weren’t afraid. After other labour factors were taken into consideration – including the mum’s age, epidurals, inductions and the use of instruments in the birth – it still took 47 minutes longer for the more anxious mums to give birth.

The study, published in the June 27 edition of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, also revealed that women afraid of labour are more likely to have an emergency caesarean (10.9 percent, compared to 6.8 percent of the other mums). They were also more likely to have an assisted/instrumental delivery (17 percent versus 10.6 percent).

All women involved in the study had the intention of delivering vaginally, and although the women who had no fear of childbirth had a higher rate of success, the majority of women achieved this (93.2 percent versus 89.1 percent).

Samantha Salvesen Adams, co-author of the research from Akershus university Hospital in Oslo, pointed out that longer labours usually lead to the use of instruments or emergency caesareans, adding: “It’s important to note that a large proportion of women with a fear of childbirth successfully had a vaginal delivery and therefore elective caesarean delivery should not be routinely recommended.”

Many factors can cause a fear of childbirth, including young maternal age, being a first-time mum, having pre-existing psychological problems, a lack of social support, and bad obstetric experiences in the past. It's thought that between 5 and 20 percent of all women experience this fear.  

Overall, the average labour time for the women in the study was 8.22 hours for first-time mums, and 4.91 hours for women who had already given birth.

Worried about giving birth? Talk to others who know what you're going through in the Essential Baby pregnancy forum, or learn more in the birth stories section.