As in many western countries, childbirth in Australia is becoming increasingly medicalised. As a result, young women are distanced from childbirth and many experience high levels of childbirth fear. The present study investigates the phenomenon of childbirth fear in nulligravida (never been pregnant) Australian women and how this relates to childbirth self-efficacy, worry, attitudes, knowledge and specific learning experiences. It also examines the relationship between childbirth fear and future birth preferences. A cross-sectional online questionnaire containing adapted and novel measures was used to assess the current childbirth-related thoughts, emotions and learning experiences of 240 Australian nulligravida women.
There was partial support for the hypotheses, which were based on previous research and relevant theories. As expected, controlling for demographics and psychological wellbeing, childbirth self-efficacy and childbirth worry were significant independent predictors of childbirth fear. However, while there was initial support for associations between fear, attitudes and knowledge, these relationships did not remain significant when the other factors were accounted for. Interestingly, childbirth fear was found to be independently associated with aspirations for children, even when accounting for control variables and other predictors. In relation to learning experiences, observing a live birth was not associated with childbirth fear as expected, but instead was associated with less childbirth worry and more childbirth self-efficacy. An exploration of vicarious sources of childbirth knowledge revealed that learning about birth from education outside of school was associated with lower levels of childbirth fear, while school sex education was associated with higher childbirth worry. The findings of this study support the importance of childbirth self-efficacy and childbirth worry in the development and maintenance of childbirth fear, and provide avenues for future intervention and exploration.