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Sharon Dekel, PhD, MS




Assistant Professor




Director, Dekel Laboratory




Sharon Dekel*, Anjali Kaimal, Tsachi Ein-Dor, Anaya Iyengar, Emily Zhang, Sabrina Chan

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Maternal Morbidity

Psychiatric morbidities are the most common complications of childbirth that can result in maternal death. My laboratory studies the biological and psychological mechanism implicated in maternal mental health following traumatic childbirth with the goal to develop accurate screening tools and interventions to prevent maternal illness. These do not exist.

I am passionate about promoting women’s health and women’s representation in science. I enjoy mentoring many women in my laboratory, and I have received an NIH supplement award to support under-represented minority women individuals in science. For all these reasons I feel it is important to participate in the WMSS.

Background: From a generational health perspective, perhaps no population’s health is more critical to safeguard than that of delivering women. We set to examine the effect of race and ethnicity on birth outcomes.

Methods: We studied a sample of 3,282 women. Using propensity score matching (PSM) procedures, a sub-sample of Black or Latinx individuals (“minority”) were matched to non-Hispanic white women on sociodemographic factors.

Results: 29% of minority individuals had traumatic stress response to childbirth indicative of risk for posttraumatic-stress-disorder and 45% had postpartum depression symptoms suggesting provisional diagnosis. This group was nearly 3 and 2 times more likely to endorse these maternal morbidities, respectively, in comparison to white women, for traumatic stress, χ 2=14.87, odds ratio, OR (95% CI) = 2.67 (1.59, 4.5), p < .001, for depression, χ 2=8.62, OR (95% CI) = 2.67 (1.21, 2.72), p < .01. Differences even remained controlling for prior mental health, abuse history, and obstetrics complications. Minority women were less likely to engage in immediate postpartum bonding behaviors, i.e., skin-to-skin (OR=0.47) and breastfeeding (OR=0.67).

Conclusions: Our findings document disproportionate maternal psychiatric morbidities among Black and Latinx individuals not explained by sociodemographic disadvantage. Major efforts are needed to support underrepresented minority individuals through improvements in practice and public policy.