Mumsnet hit back at claims that horror stories on their forums increase fear of giving birth

Having a baby is one of the most exciting yet terrifying life decisions you can ever make, so it’s hardly surprising that so many expectant mothers turn to parenting forums for guidance and support.

But Catriona Jones, a researcher at the University of Hull, has claimed that the ‘tsunami’ of detailed accounts of labour can be so traumatising that all this oversharing is actually leading to a rise in tokophiobia – a phobia of childbirth.

‘If you go into Mumsnet forums, women are telling stories about childbirth – “it’s terrible, it’s a bloodbath”. I think that can be difficult to deal with,’ she said.

Mumsnet founder and CEO Justine Roberts has since hit back, arguing that many mums who use these parenting forums simply want an honest account of what birth is like.

‘Mumsnet users are, in the main, impatient with the idea that adult women aren’t entitled to discover the truth about the full spectrum of birth experiences, from the blissful to the terrifying,’ she said.

‘Understandably, a great deal of NHS messaging about labour focuses on the positive, but the downside of this is that mothers who have traumatic experiences feel, in retrospect, that they were given a deeply partial account: one of the most common complaints we see on this topic is “Why on earth didn’t anyone tell me the truth about how bad it could be?”’

But according to Catronia, who is a senior research fellow and lecturer in maternal health at Hull University, these horror stories are only causing more women to suffer from tokophobia, which has been on the rise since 2000.

The condition, which is the medically diagnosed fear or anxiety of the natural childbirth process is the most common reason women request an elective Caesarean. It can cause sufferers to experience panic, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and trembling and it’s believed that up to 14 per cent of pregnant women are now affected by the condition.

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Netmums editior-in-chief Annie O’Leary has also responded to Catriona’s comments. She says she was disappointed that honest discussions on her site could be seen as fuelling a fear of childbirth.

‘Every birth is different and for every “horror story” as Catriona Jones chose to put it, there are stories where women have nothing but good things to say of their experience,’ she said.

‘As a mother, a health journalist and woman I’m quite alarmed by this stance. To infer that women can’t or shouldn’t research and read a breadth of first person birth testimony online does us all a huge disservice.’

Indeed, a recent survey by Channel Mum found that 92 per cent of mums actively seek out others birth stories when they’re pregnant with 69 per cent finding it helpful and empowering. This compared to just 29 per cent who said it made them more fearful.

Whether parenting forums are driving an increase in tokophobia or not, it’s clear that talking about your experiences, sharing and building your birth community can only be a good thing – as long as you remember to listen to all sides of the story.

And for those who suffer from the condition there are many treatment options available including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), self-hypnosis, relaxation, visualisation and breathing techniques.

What do you think? Can too much information ever be a bad thing?