Internet-based cognitive behaviour therapy for women with negative birth experiences following childbirth

Abstract: Childbirth can be associated with both positive and negative psychological reactions. The experience of labour and birth is subjective, multidimensional and complex including physiological and psychological factors. Distress from a negative birth experience can lead to various psychiatric disorders, such as postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder following childbirth (PTSD FC) which both can have extensive consequences for the woman and her family members.  The overall aim of this thesis was to develop and evaluate internet-based cognitive behaviour therapy (iCBT) compared to Treatment as usual (TAU) for women with negative birth experiences at risk for PTSD FC. The work is summarized in four papers originating from one randomised controlled trial (RCT). Paper I presents the study protocol of the RCT. Paper II investigated predictors for non-participation, pre-treatment dropout, treatment dropout and loss to follow-up in the RCT. Paper III and IV evaluated the effect of iCBT on mental health and quality of life (paper III) and partner relationship and mother-infant bonding (paper IV).  Results from paper II showed that a majority of the eligible women never participated and those with no obstetric complications were more likely to not participate and/or dropout at different time points. Nonparticipation was predicted by several variables, both demographic, antepartum and obstetrical. Results from paper III showed that ICBT did not reduce PTSD FC or depressive symptoms and in paper IV we found that iCBT had no effect on different aspects of partner relationship or mother-infant bonding. However, both groups (ICBT and TAU) reported reductions of re-experiences of traumatic memories and depressive symptoms over time. Both groups also reported fewer positive feelings and attitudes toward their partner over time and mother-infant bonding showed initial improvement, but this later changed into decline over time. In summary, we could not demonstrate any clear effect of iCBT as compared to TAU, but changes over time in both groups indicate some level of natural recovery from birth related trauma, decreased quality of partner relationship and initial improvement in mother-infant bonding. The challenge in future research will be to develop interventions that are both well accepted and effective in supporting women with negative birth experiences at risk for PTSD FC. The next step should be to apply more narrow inclusion criteria in order to capture a more motivated population in need of psychological support.