This conversation was led by Zaneta Thayer, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. Childbirth is an essential component of reproduction. And yet, many individuals experience fear of childbirth (FOC), defined as anxiety about birth that impairs an individual’s daily functioning and wellbeing. Mild to moderate FOC has been previously described as a potential adaptation for humans to seek assistance during labor and delivery. However, FOC exists on a spectrum, and individuals with high FOC are known to be more likely to request cesarean and other forms of medical intervention in order to avoid pain and maintain a sense of control. In this talk, Thayer expanded on what is known about the causes of FOC, as well as presently underappreciated impacts of FOC on maternal and child health across the perinatal period. Using data collected from pregnant persons living in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, she discussed how pandemic-related restrictions on birth environments have amplified FOC and associations between FOC and gestation length, postpartum depression, and breastfeeding outcomes. This work suggests that promoting prenatal care and birth environments that facilitate patient-provider trust, continuous labor support, and maternal self-efficacy could reduce FOC.
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