Publication Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Academic Program

Master of Science in Clinical Investigation


Center for Clinical and Translational Science

First Thesis Advisor

Nancy Byatt


Perinatal mental health, birth trauma, traumatic birth, postpartum mental health, OB/GYN, qualitative research



Up to 34% of perinatal individuals experience childbirth as traumatic. These individuals are at increased risk for developing depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the traumatic event. The objective of this study was to elicit the perspectives of individuals with a traumatic birth experience on barriers and facilitators to receiving mental health support in the postpartum period after a traumatic delivery.


Individuals who delivered within the last three years and perceived their birth experience to be traumatic (n=32) completed an hour-long semi-structured phone interview. The interview included screening for PTSD, depression, and anxiety with validated instruments including the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist for DSM-V (PCL-5), the Patient Health Questionnaire depression scale (PHQ-8), and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale (GAD-7), respectively. Qualitative data was analyzed using a modified grounded theory characterizing participants’ barriers and recommendations for mental health support after traumatic births.


Among participants, 34.4% screened positive for PTSD, 18.8% screened positive for major depressive disorder, and 34.4% screened positive for anxiety. Qualitative themes revealed multi-level barriers involving lack of communication, education, and resources which prevented obstetric professionals from recognizing and supporting patients’ mental health needs after a traumatic birth. Recommendations from participants included that 1) obstetric professionals should acknowledge trauma experienced by any individual after childbirth, 2) providers of multiple disciplines need to be integrated into postpartum care, and 3) mental health support is needed before the ambulatory postpartum visit.


There are multi-level barriers toward detecting and responding to individuals’ mental health needs after a traumatic birth. Obstetric professionals need to use a trauma-informed approach and proactively follow-up and assess mental health care in the postpartum period.



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