Preventing post-traumatic stress disorder following childbirth and traumatic birth experiences: a systematic review

Lisanne F. de Graaff*, Adriaan Honig, Mariëlle G. van Pampus, Claire A.I. Stramrood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Introduction: Between 9 and 44% of women experience giving birth as traumatic, and 3% of women develop a post-traumatic stress disorder following childbirth. Knowledge on risk factors is abundant, but studies on treatment are limited. This study aimed to present an overview of means to prevent traumatic birth experiences and childbirth-related post-traumatic stress disorder. Material and methods: Major databases [Cochrane; Embase; PsycINFO; PubMed (Medline)] were searched using combinations of the key words and their synonyms. Results: After screening titles and abstracts and reading 135 full-text articles, 13 studies were included. All evaluated secondary prevention, and none primary prevention. Interventions included debriefing, structured psychological interventions, expressive writing interventions, encouraging skin-to-skin contact with healthy newborns immediately postpartum and holding or seeing the newborn after stillbirth. The large heterogeneity of study characteristics precluded pooling of data. The writing interventions to express feelings appeared to be effective in prevention. A psychological intervention including elements of exposure and psycho-education seemed to lead to fewer post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in women who delivered via emergency cesarean section. Conclusions: No research has been done on primary prevention of traumatic childbirth. Research on secondary prevention of traumatic childbirth and post-traumatic stress disorder following delivery provides insufficient evidence that the described interventions are effective in unselected groups of women. In certain subgroups, results are inhomogeneous.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)648-656
Number of pages9
JournalActa Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018

Cite this