AJOG: Preventing posttraumatic stress disorder following childbirth: a systematic review and meta-analysis


Women can develop posttraumatic stress disorder in response to experienced or perceived traumatic, often medically complicated, childbirth; the prevalence of these events remains high in the United States. Currently, no recommended treatment exists in routine care to prevent or mitigate maternal childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials that evaluated any therapy to prevent or treat childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder.

Data Sources

PsycInfo, PsycArticles, PubMed (MEDLINE), ClinicalTrials.gov, CINAHL, ProQuest, Sociological Abstracts, Google Scholar, Embase, Web of Science, ScienceDirect, Scopus, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) were searched for eligible trials published through September 2023.

Study Eligibility Criteria

Trials were included if they were interventional, if they evaluated any therapy for childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder for the indication of symptoms or before posttraumatic stress disorder onset, and if they were written in English.


Independent coders extracted the sample characteristics and intervention information of the eligible studies and evaluated the trials using the Downs and Black’s quality checklist and Cochrane’s method for risk of bias evaluation. Meta-analysis was conducted to evaluate pooled effect sizes of secondary and tertiary prevention trials.


A total of 41 studies (32 randomized controlled trials, 9 nonrandomized trials) were reviewed. They evaluated brief psychological therapies including debriefing, trauma-focused therapies (including cognitive behavioral therapy and expressive writing), memory consolidation and reconsolidation blockage, mother-infant–focused therapies, and educational interventions. The trials targeted secondary preventions aimed at buffering childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder usually after traumatic childbirth (n=24), tertiary preventions among women with probable childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder (n=14), and primary prevention during pregnancy (n=3).

A meta-analysis of the combined randomized secondary preventions showed moderate effects in reducing childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms when compared with usual treatment (standardized mean difference, −0.67; 95% confidence interval, −0.92 to −0.42). Single-session therapy within 96 hours of birth was helpful (standardized mean difference, −0.55). Brief, structured, trauma-focused therapies and semi-structured, midwife-led, dialogue-based psychological counseling showed the largest effects (standardized mean difference, −0.95 and −0.91, respectively). Other treatment approaches (eg, the Tetris game, mindfulness, mother-infant–focused treatment) warrant more research. Tertiary preventions produced smaller effects than secondary prevention but are potentially clinically meaningful (standardized mean difference, −0.37; −0.60 to −0.14). Antepartum educational approaches may help, but insufficient empirical evidence exists.


Brief trauma-focused and non–trauma-focused psychological therapies delivered early in the period following traumatic childbirth offer a critical and feasible opportunity to buffer the symptoms of childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Future research that integrates diagnostic and biological measures can inform treatment use and the mechanisms at work.

Preventing posttraumatic stress disorder following childbirth: a systematic review and meta-analysis – American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ajog.org)