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ABSTRACT: Background: The increased acceptance of the prevalence of trauma in human experience as well as its psychological consequences has led to revisions of diagnostic criteria for the disorder. The three purposes of this study were to examine the rates at which women experienced psychological trauma in childbirth, to explore possible causal factors, and to examine possible factors in the development of the disorder.

Methods: One hundred and three women from childbirth education classes in the Atlanta metropolitan area completed a survey in late pregnancy and a follow-up interview approximately 4 weeks after the birth.

Results: The childbirth experience was reported as traumatic by 34 percent of participants. Two women (1.9%) developed all the symptoms needed to diagnose posttraumatic stress disorder, and 31 women (30.1%) were partially symptomatic. Regression analysis showed that antecedent factors (e.g., history of sexual trauma and social support) and event characteristics (e.g., pain in first stage of labor, feelings of powerlessness, expectations, medical intervention, and interaction with medical personnel) were significant predictors of perceptions of the childbirth as traumatic. The pain experienced during the birth, levels of social support, self-efficacy, internal locus of control, trait anxiety, and coping were significant predictors of the development of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms after the birth.

Conclusions: These findings suggest several intervention points for health care practitioners, including careful prenatal screening of past trauma history, social support, and expectations about the birth; improved communication and pain management during the birth; and opportunities to discuss the birth postpartum. (BIRTH 30:1 March 2003)