13/09/2018 13:46 BST | Updated 13/09/2018 16:09 BST

Do Parenting Forums Drive An Increase In Fear Around Childbirth?

Mumsnet and Netmums respond to criticism.

Mumsnet has responded to claims that parenting forums drive an increase in fear around giving birth.

Catriona Jones, a researcher at the University of Hull, told The Times the “tsunami” of detailed accounts of labour shared online can be traumatising. “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.

Jones, a lecturer in midwifery, believes reading these stories is contributing to a fear of childbirth – known as tokophobia – which has been on the rise since 2000, as well as driving women to ask for caesarean sections. 

Responding to the comments, Justine Roberts, Mumsnet founder and CEO said many mums who contribute to these parenting forums want to know, honestly, 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.

Petri Oeschger via Getty Images

Roberts continued: “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?’”

Mumsnet is one of many online parenting forums where mums openly share stories about their experiences of having children. Siobhan Freegard, founder of, an online community featuring videos from mums, said people hearing the horror stories about childbirth aren’t listening to the whole picture. 

“If oversharing is scaring women about birth – then you are listening to the wrong people,” she told HuffPost UK. “Just as you wouldn’t listen to friends in real life who were always negative, there’s no need to do it online either. Some women do have bad births and it’s important to acknowledge and learn from this so they get proper post-birth support. However the majority of women have a birth which while tough, they can cope with.”

A recent survey by Channel Mum found 92 per cent of mums actively seek out others birth stories when they are pregnant and 69 per cent found it helpful and empowering, against just 29 per cent who said it made them more fearful. “So carry on talking and sharing and building your birth community but remember to listen to all sides of the story,” Freegard added.

Midwife Marie-Louise tells HuffPost UK despite there being a problem women telling women horror stories, from her experience, so many women do wonder why no one told them the “truth” – and the truth is that women should be in control and understand their options fully: “This includes what position their baby is in, how to progress their labour naturally and what they will and will not consent to,” she said. “The problem of horror stories being shared is scratching the surface of a far bigger problem. Why are women having such bad birth experiences? What can we do to change this? I run a social media account myself to help combat this very problem and take childbirth back to where it belongs. With women.” 

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."Annie O’Leary, editor in chief at Netmums

Annie O’Leary, editor-in-chief of another parenting forum site, Netmums, said she was disappointed to hear that full and frank discussions about childbirth on sites like theirs could be seen as fuelling a fear of childbirth. 

She says most mums see it as a positive that we live in an age where we can have discussions about birth that are true, accurate and real without it being shrouded in secrecy. “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 in a statement. “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.”

O’Leary believes sites like Netmums where women can freely discuss their experiences, thoughts and feelings are an “enrichment of what it is to be a woman”. “Netmums combination of peer-to-peer chat and reassurance combined with expert guidance and support built in, surely has to be a step forward in supporting the needs of parents today,” she added.

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