Effects of a midwife psycho-education intervention to reduce childbirth fear on women's birth outcomes and postpartum psychological wellbeing

Jennifer Fenwick, Jocelyn Toohill, Jenny Gamble, Debra K. Creedy, Anne Buist, Erika Turkstra, Anne Sneddon, Paul A. Scuffham, Elsa L. Ryding

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75 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: High levels of childbirth fear impact birth preparation, obstetric outcomes and emotional wellbeing for around one in five women living in developed countries. Higher rates of obstetric intervention and caesarean section (CS) are experienced in fearful women. The efficacy of interventions to reduce childbirth fear is unclear, with no previous randomised controlled trials reporting birth outcomes or postnatal psychological wellbeing following a midwife led intervention. Method: Between May 2012 and June 2013 women in their second trimester of pregnancy were recruited. Women with a fear score ≥ 66 on the Wijma Delivery Expectancy / Experience Questionnaire (W-DEQ) were randomised to receive telephone psycho-education by a midwife, or usual maternity care. A two armed non-blinded parallel (1:1) multi-site randomised controlled trial with participants allocated in blocks of ten and stratified by hospital site and parity using an electronic centralised computer service. The outcomes of the RCT on obstetric outcomes, maternal psychological well-being, parenting confidence, birth satisfaction, and future birth preference were analysed by intention to treat and reported here. Results: 1410 women were screened for high childbirth fear (W-DEQ ≥66). Three hundred and thirty-nine (n = 339) women were randomised (intervention n = 170; controls n = 169). One hundred and eighty-four women (54 %) returned data for final analysis at 6 weeks postpartum (intervention n = 91; controls n = 93). Compared to controls the intervention group had a clinically meaningful but not statistically significant reduction in overall caesarean section (34 % vs 42 %, p = 0.27) and emergency CS rates (18 % vs 25 %, p = 0.23). Fewer women in the intervention group preferred caesarean section for a future pregnancy (18 % vs 30 %, p = 0.04). All other obstetric variables remained similar. There were no differences in postnatal depression symptoms scores, parenting confidence, or satisfaction with maternity care between groups, but a lower incidence of flashbacks about their birth in the intervention group compared to controls (14 % vs 26 %, p = 0.05). Postnatally women who received psycho-education reported that the 'decision aid' helped reduce their fear (53 % vs 37 %, p = 0.02). Conclusion: Following a brief antenatal midwife-led psycho-education intervention for childbirth fear women were less likely to experience distressing flashbacks of birth and preferred a normal birth in a future pregnancy. A reduction in overall CS rates was also found. Psycho-education for fearful women has clinical benefits for the current birth and expectations of future pregnancies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number284
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


Funding Information: The study was funded by the National Health & Medical Research Council, NHMRC grant number APP1025099. We are grateful for statistical analysis support from Associate Professor Julie Pallant, the research midwives who recruited women to the study, midwives who provided the psycho-education, the research assistants who maintained contact with women and collected data. Importantly we thank the women who participated.


  • BELIEF study
  • Caesarean section
  • Childbirth fear
  • Midwife psycho-education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology


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