Explore This Research Lab

Overview

Ensuring the well-being of women from the very early postpartum period is important for mother and child health. Research in the Dekel lab at Massachusetts General Hospital is focused on identifying the factors that are implicated in optimal adaptation as well as psychopathology of mothers following childbirth. To this end, we combine psychological, physiological and neuroimaging tools to prospectively study women from pregnancy across childbirth. Ultimately our goal is to develop novel tools for early detection of mothers at risk for postpartum mental disorders and preventive treatments that are effective and safe. 

Although childbirth is usually considered a uniformly happy event, some women may experience a traumatic childbirth. Some will go on to develop a postpartum posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition we know very little about. We study the psychological and biological mechanisms underlying the various mental health trajectories in the wake of a traumatic delivery and what allows some women to be resilient and even grow psychologically. We are also interested in learning the ways in which distress in the mother may influence child development.

Patient Stories

There’s a recurrent theme among birthing people who experience a traumatic birth, only 20% seek treatment because there’s no formal diagnosis for postpartum PTSD. Women too often don’t know they’re suffering with the condition and can experience guilt and shame.

Increasing awareness of conditions of traumatic stress and associated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is different and distinct from postpartum depression (PPD), after giving birth can help destigmatize postpartum PTSD, promote healing and a sense of ‘you’re not alone.’

Please be advised that the stories below are honest and powerful, though traumatic, stories of childbirth.

Emergency and/or unscheduled cesarean section (c-section)

“It’s after 6am and I wake up in my bed at the delivery room to see a group of nurses standing at my bedside looking very concerned. I immediately can tell that something’s not right. One of the nurses tells me that my baby’s heart rate has spiked really high and isn’t coming down. I start to panic and feel my heart beat faster and my stomach in knots. Two or three minutes later the nurses rush back in and one of them tells me that I need a c-section right now. I ask whether my partner can come and the nurse tells me they have to take me immediately. She puts a hairnet on me as they’re rushing me down the hall. I feel like I have no control. I hold on to my necklace with my daughter’s ashes and pray. I’m all alone and I’m terrified that I’ll lose this baby too.”

Recovery / immediate postpartum

“It’s the morning and I'm in the bathroom. I’ve just urinated. Now, I feel something large slide out of me as I stand up. Looking down, my face becomes flushed. There, on the pad in my underwear, I see a very large blood clot approximately the size of a lime. I’m feeling nauseous and my heart quickens. I fear that I’m bleeding again. With my hands trembling, I pull the nurses’ emergency line. Then, 3 nurses come running into the bathroom, and I see they look panicked. I feel lightheaded and jittery. I’m scared I need another surgery.”

Health of the fetus

“It’s around 11 am and I’m lying on a bed in the operating room and I’ve just had a c-section. They drop the curtain to show me my baby, and I feel sweaty as I look at her. She looks very red and swollen, and I know that something is wrong. My husband tells me that she has swelling on her head because she couldn’t fit, and I feel guilty because she was trying, and I wasn’t helping her. I feel exhausted as I think about what’s going to happen next. With tension in my forehead, I hear the constant chatter between the doctors, but no one will tell me if I’ll be able to do skin to skin and I feel sad.”

Obstetrical complications

“I’m lying cut open on the operating room table and blood rushes to my head. I don’t hear my baby crying, and I think that she’s not alive. They take my baby away, and I see my husband walk past me, looking at me with my insides exposed. The surgeon says, “I don’t like the placement of the bowel, let’s take it out and place it again.” I break out into a sweat and start to have a panic attack as my heart beats faster. Then, I begin to black out and my hands start to shake as I become nauseous.”

Medical complications

“It’s 11:00 pm and I’m lying on the operating room table with three IVs restricting my arms. My husband isn’t in the room and I’m all alone. Bright light shines on me, and my eyes become watery. Immediately I feel sick and begin to vomit. The nurse gives me a puke bag and I’m barely holding it between my left shoulder and chin. Only some of the vomit makes it in. I continue to shake vigorously and feel no control over what is happening. Now, the doctor tells me she needs to do a hysterectomy. My body feels heavy as I think I’ll lose my uterus. I’m concerned I may even lose my life.”

Staff Interactions

“It’s around 9:30 AM. I am in the labor and delivery unit propped up in a hospital bed with an IV, oxygen saturation monitor, and a fetal heart monitor on my belly. My husband is to the left of me, along with two nurses and a young male anesthesiologist elsewhere in the room. I feel tense all over and my heart begins to beat faster as I remember what happened during my last birthing experience. I ask the anesthesiologist if he had read my file in preparation for today. He says no and even shrugs when I describe my previous birthing experience. I want to scream, my jaw clenches and my stomach feels knotted, but I keep my emotions inside. I feel like everything is unraveling.”

Baby/mom attachment connection

“I’m lying on the birthing bed in the delivery room with my husband and the midwife holding my legs wide open. My heart races and I feel sweaty as the nurse tells me, “next push and she’s going to be here.” Suddenly, someone plops my baby onto me. With my eyes wide open, I look at her big purple face. It doesn’t feel like this is my baby and I feel disconnected, waiting for her to make a sound. Then, my palms are clammy as they quickly take her away and I feel shocked. She doesn’t look right, and I know that something is wrong.”

Resources for New Parents

If you or someone you care about needs mental health help, please consider calling one of these numbers on the right. If you are facing a life-threatening emergency call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

General Mental Health Resources
  • National Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.

Las personas en crisis deben llamar a sus médicos, al número de emergencia local o a una de las Líneas Directas Nacionales de Emergencia que se muestran a continuación.

  • Línea de Crisis Nacional- Mensaje de texto : Envia un mensaje de texto con la palabra HOME al 741741 desde cualquier lugar de los EE. UU., en cualquier momento, sobre cualquier tipo de crisis.
Postpartum and Maternal Mental Health Resources
  • Postpartum Support International (PSI)
    • Helpline: 1-800-944-4773. You can connect with a support coordinator near you and search their online provider directory
      • NOTE: The PSI Helpline does not handle emergencies. People in crisis should call their local emergency number or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
    • PSI International Resources
  • PSI of Massachusetts provides toll-free and confidential information and support. Leave a message and a volunteer will get back to you within 24 hours. Call 866-472-1897 or Text “Help” to 800-944-4773
  • The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline
    • Helpline: 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262). This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English and Spanish. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.
  • Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Program for Moms (MCPAP) promotes maternal and child health by building the capacity of providers serving pregnant and postpartum women and their children up to one year after delivery to effectively prevent, identify, and manage mental health and substance use concerns.
  • Jewish Family & Children’s Services offers free Home Visiting Program for new mothers in both English and Spanish.
  • Mass PPD Fund offers new parent mental health resources


Lab Presentations

See Dr. Dekel present her research into childbirth trauma and maternal PTSD.


Through the Magnifying Glass: The Dekel Lab and the Psychiatry of Childbirth

Podcast: The Joint Committee on the Status of Women (JCSW) Show: Mental Health After Childbirth
with Assistant Professor Sharon Dekel

Clinical Research

If you are pregnant and planning to give birth at MGH, and interested in participating in research, please email MothersStudy@partners.org.

Graphic of ongoing projects

Current Lab Studies

Defining Postpartum PTSD and Its Implications for Maternal Wellness and Child Development (Harvard-MGH BIRTH study)

Maternal mental illness following childbirth is associated with substantial societal costs. An estimated 240,000 American women suffer from childbirth-related post-traumatic stress disorder (CB-PTSD) each year. Some may struggle with forming an emotional attachment to their infant. Yet, CB-PTSD remains largely underdiagnosed and undertreated, and we want to change this reality through state-of-the art research. This NIH-funded study aims to define the course and predictors of CB-PTSD and its effects on the child, and establish the foundation for preventive and holistic care for both mother and child. We are studying women from the time of pregnancy and at repeated times throughout the first postpartum year. Over 350 pregnant women have been enrolled in this study so far. The study is open to enrollment for women who receive their perinatal care at MGH.

Please contact us to learn more about our project: MothersStudy@partners.org
Contact Person: Ainsley Belisle: anbelisle@mgh.harvard.edu

Preventing Childbirth-Related PTSD With Expressive Writing (CARES)

There are no recommendations for interventions to prevent PTSD following childbirth. However, this form of PTSD is an ideal candidate for prevention because we know when the disorder develops, that is, after childbirth, and women are followed as part of routine care during this time period. In this first-of-its-kind study, we are testing whether a brief and early psychological intervention can prevent PTSD following a complicated, highly stressful delivery. The study is funded by the NIH and entails a randomized clinical trial, which is the state-of-the art study design in clinical research to determine whether a treatment is effective or not. Women are asked to write about their childbirth experience or neutral daily events in the first postpartum days. Our work furthers the NICHD’s mission that “women avoid harmful effects from reproductive processes and children achieve healthy and productive lives.” ClinicalTrials.gov IDNCT05662423. The study is open to enrollment for women who receive their perinatal care at MGH. 

Please contact us to learn more about our project: MothersStudy@partners.org 
Contact Person: Christina Pham: CPHAM4@mgh.harvard.edu

Dekel Lab: Global Mental Health Initiative: Harvard-Israel Birth Study

Although large-scale man-made trauma remains a global threat, our knowledge about the impact of terrorism and war on birth outcomes is scarce. This is in part because it is difficult to develop a study during times of crisis. We are collaborating with teams in Israel to study the impact of the October 7th massacre and the Israel-Hamas War on pregnant and postpartum women residing in Israel. Our goal is to collect critical information on women’s mental health and understand how heightened levels of stress may affect birth outcomes. We have enrolled over 800 women so far. Here is the study advertisement:

Calling all pregnant women and women who recently gave birth! Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital researchers in consultation with physicians and researchers from hospitals in Israel are examining the impact of the October 7th massacre on women’s wellbeing. Complete a survey.

Dekel Lab: Global Mental Health Initiative: Nigerian Obstetric Wellness (NOW) Project

The study of maternal mental health in developing countries is lacking. Unfortunately, rates of maternal death remain high in certain regions of the world, and accordingly, so do severe complications in childbirth that likely result in developing PTSD. Nigeria is among the leading countries in which the state of maternal mental health is poor: 1,047 out of 100,000 women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, with an associated psychological toll. We have collaborated with the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department of the University College Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria (Site PI: Prof. Adesina Oladokun) to perform the first-ever study on traumatic childbirth and PTSD. We are investigating the prevalence of maternal PTSD and its risk factors by studying patients in this hospital. We are interested in revealing how social determinants of health, as well as the actual practice of perinatal care, impacts women’s well-being.

Preventing Postpartum Depression with Oxytocin

Our NIH funded clinical trial introduces a novel therapeutic approach with the use of oxytocin administered to mothers at risk immediately following childbirth. We are testing whether oxytocin, an anxiolytic and pro-social hormone, can reduce postpartum depression and anxiety and boost mother-infant bonding as well as breastfeeding to the ultimate benefit of the child’s health. Boosting mother-infant bonding at a critical stage for infant development can modify the long-term health trajectory of the child. This study is done in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of Mass General researchers and the Mass General Obstetrics Program. Women who plan to deliver at Mass General are being recruited for this study. Clinical Trial

The Maternal Brain: Examining Neural Alterations Following Traumatic Childbirth

As much as a third of women experience a traumatic childbirth and a significant portion can go on to develop PTSD. Nevertheless, research on the underling biological mechanism of this maternal condition that can detect disease biomarkers is completely lacking. Neuroimaging is currently the only technique that provides direct non-invasive access to the living human brain. This NIH funded study is the first of its kind to examine potential changes in the maternal brain associated with traumatic childbirth and the development of PTSD. We use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tasks to reveal the core neural abnormalities of childbirth-related PTSD and how these abnormalities can mediate problems in early mother-infant attachment and impair healthy child development. Elucidating the neural correlates of postpartum PTSD and yielding clinically relevant biomarkers could translate into the development of new therapies and improve clinical diagnosis. This study is open for enrollment.

Childbirth-induced Postpartum Psychological Outcomes

Identifying at risk women for postpartum mental health disorders is crucial for implementing preventive treatment tailored to different symptoms. In this large-scale prospective, longitudinal study, we are examining women’s mental health trajectories from pregnancy through childbirth into the early postpartum period. We study the experience of childbirth and subsequent heterogeneous psychological responses to better capture the dynamic nature of postpartum coping over time. We assess negative as well as positive mental health outcomes induced by the childbirth experience and the factors predicting these responses. Women who plan to deliver at Mass General are recruited for this study, which is conducted in collaboration with Mass General Obstetrics Program. To learn more, contact our team at MothersStudy@partners.org.

Traumatic Childbirth: A Physiological Approach to Study Maternal Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

In this study we are examining the validation of maternal PTSD. To this end, we are using the same experimental methods that have been developed to establish the recognition of combat-related PTSD. We ask whether the memory of childbirth can trigger heightened physiological responses, similarly to the well-documented physiological reactivity seen in veterans diagnosed with PTSD. This study may call for expanding the formal DSM definition of postpartum conditions to include disorders of traumatic stress. Clinical Trial

International Study of Childbirth Characteristics and Subsequent PTSD

We recently completed a study of nearly 700 postpartum women from around the globe, targeting posttraumatic stress symptoms following childbirth. We have found that as much as 12% of women are expected to experience PTSD symptoms at a clinical level after giving birth to a healthy baby at term. Women who have an unscheduled Cesarean are three times more likely to suffer from PTSD

Overall, our findings show that objective stressors in birth such as mode of delivery and obstetrical complications as well as the woman’s subjective traumatic experience of childbirth predict the development of subsequent PTSD. Socioeconomic disadvantage also increases vulnerability. Furthermore, having symptoms of PTSD can interfere with the mother’s ability to bond with her baby

How was your childbirth experience?

We at Harvard University and Mass General Hospital are collaborating with other investigators around the globe to improve maternal mental health following childbirth. For this purpose, we would like to learn about your recent childbirth experience.
Let’s work together to collect critical information to ensure that women will receive all the support they deserve around childbirth.

Click here to complete an anonymous survey. It will take about 15 minutes to complete. Please note, this study is only open to those who gave birth at a Harvard-affiliated hospital within the past 6-12 weeks.

Completed Lab Studies

Impact of Coronavirus on Mother’s Birth Experience and Wellbeing

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic turned the lives of millions of people upside down all over the globe and affected our wellbeing. Our mothers wellness coronavirus project was an international study open to all women in the U.S. and other countries. This study yielded a extensive findings that have been published in six journal articles:

  • We found that mothers in COVID-19-exposed communities endorsed more clinically acute stress response to childbirth than matched controls. Acute stress mediated the relationship between study group and postpartum outcomes. (PMID33412491)
  • Nearly 50% of COVID-19-positive women endorsed acute traumatic stress symptoms at a clinical level in response to childbirth. This group was more than twice as likely to endorse acute stress and to have no visitors during maternity hospitalization than COVID negative women. The COVID-19-positive group reported higher levels of pain in delivery, lower newborn weights, and more infant admission to neonatal intensive care units (PMID34188137). 
  • >60% of participants reported childbirth-related post-traumatic growth (PTG), with greater appreciation of life endorsed most frequently. In deliveries during the pandemic, childbirth-related acute stress was linked with elevated PTG; in turn, PTG was associated with lower posttraumatic stress symptoms and better mother-infant bonding. (PMID35772629)
  • We used a machine learning-based natural language processing model to represent childbirth narratives as vectors that served as inputs for a neural network machine learning model to identify participants with childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder (CB-PTSD). (PMID36509356)
  • We used numerical vector representations of childbirth narratives and compared ChatGPT vs. other machine learning (ML)-based large language models to assess for CB-PTSD, and we developed a model that performs very well (F1 score: 0.81). (PMID37886525)
  • We demonstrated the feasibility of using the Peritraumatic Distress Inventory (PDI) to assess for acute distress to classify women likely to endorse CB-PTSD. The data used in this study is also related to our International Survey. (PMID38070747)

Research Team

Sharon Dekel

Sharon Dekel, PhD | Principal Investigator

Dr. Sharon Dekel is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School and the Director of the Postpartum Traumatic Stress Disorders Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. She earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University and completed her clinical internship training at Columbia Medical Center followed by a research postdoctoral fellowship in a leading international Trauma lab. Dr. Dekel is also a licensed clinical psychologist.

Dr. Dekel has been studying biological and psychological factors associated with ways of coping with stressful events. Her work on the positive outlook of traumatic stress is considered pioneering in the field. Rather than viewing trauma outcomes as exclusively negative, her studies have increased our understanding of the human capacity to thrive in the wake of trauma (see Dr. Dekel’s publication record). 

Since joining Massachusetts General Hospital in 2013, Dr. Dekel has expanded her research with the investigation of childbirth as a potentially traumatic event. This represents a new frontier in trauma studies. She developed a multidisciplinary research model involving both the Mass General Psychiatric and OB/GYN Departments that has allowed her to study over 4,000 postpartum women. Dr. Dekel is defining the overlooked condition of childbirth-related post-traumatic stress disorder (CB-PTSD) and working to better understand the transmission of the disorder’s effects to the offspring. By studying childbirth as a model of traumatic stress, she hopes to translate the knowledge gained to improve clinical care of trauma-exposed individuals. 

Dr. Dekel is a two-time recipient of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation’s Young Investigator Award, the MGH’s Executive Committee On Research ISF funding, and the Harvard Mind Brain Behavior Faculty Award, as well as having received Mass General’s Claflin Distinguished Scholar Award for Women in Science, and is a recent recipient of Postpartum Support International Susan A. Hickman Memorial Research Award for excellence in scientific work on postpartum mental health. She has been continually supported by the National Institutes of Health. 

Dr. Dekel is on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Loss and Trauma, Archive of Women’s Mental Health, the Annals of Depression and Anxiety, and the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, the American Psychological Association’s lead traumatic stress journal. She is an Associate Editor of the journals Frontiers in Psychiatry and Frontiers in Psychology, where she edited a special volume on childbirth-PTSD. She is a member of the Board of the International Marcé Society, the largest organization supporting perinatal mental health. Dr. Dekel is also Chair of the Postpartum Trauma Special Interest Group of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies, which is the largest professional organization in the field. 

Postdoctoral Research Fellows

Kelimer Lebrón-Sagardia, PhD

Kelimer Lebrón-Sagardia, PhD 

Dr. Kelimer Lebrón-Sagardia is a Latina neuroscientist and mother focused on research related to women's mental health. From her early work at Ponce Health Science University, Puerto Rico, to her postdoctoral tenure at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, she has explored fear extinction in anxiety disorders. Her foundational research links gonadal hormonal fluctuations to an elevated risk of anxiety disorders in women. As a Research Fellow in Dr. Dekel's Lab, supported by an NIH Re-Entry Supplement, Dr. Lebrón-Sagardia focuses on maternal mental health, studying racial discrimination's impact on Black and Hispanic postpartum women. Committed to addressing maternal health disparities, she strives to innovate healthcare strategies for her community. 


Beatrice Quagliarini

Beatrice Quagliarini, MD

Beatrice is a dedicated psychiatrist with a passion for improving women’s mental health. After obtaining her MD degree from Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome, she discovered her love for psychiatry during an internship at Sainte Anne Hospital in Paris. This experience led her to pursue her residency in Geneva, where she specialized in liaison psychiatry and women's mental health. After working in this field for two years, Beatrice developed a strong desire to deepen her knowledge via research and joined Dekel Lab, in which she is currently contributing to the BIRTH study, the Expressive Writing study, and the Nigerian Obstetric Wellness (NOW) project studying maternal mental health in Nigeria. Beatrice coauthored the Dekel Lab’s systematic review and meta-analysis of interventions to prevent and treat childbirth-related PTSD (CB-PTSD) (PMID 38122842) and its validation of the PCL-5 questionnaire (PMID 37981091). In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading, spending quality time with her friends, and practicing yoga, which she also teaches. 


Kathleen Jagodnik

Kathleen Jagodnik, PhD

Kathleen is a researcher with a passion for exploration and innovation, focusing on maternal mental health. She earned her MS and PhD degrees in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Her work in the Dekel Lab focuses on using Machine Learning to identify risk factors of childbirth-associated PTSD (CB-PTSD) and developing computational models to estimate women’s risk for CB-PTSD. She coauthored several publications with the Dekel Lab (PMID 37162947, PMID 38122842, PMID 37981091 , PMID 38149098), including two studies involving the use of Machine Learning to analyze childbirth narratives to assess for CB-PTSD (PMID 36093354, PMID 37886525) and a book chapter on CB-PTSD. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends, reading, composing electronic music, conducting completist music reviews, and pursuing various creative projects. 

PhD Graduate Student

Gabriella Hamlett

Gabriella Hamlett, MA

Gabriella completed her MA degree at Teachers College, Columbia University in 2020 and her B.S. at UC Davis in 2017. She is a Clinical Psychology PhD student at Harvard University. She is interested in emotion regulatory processes underlying the onset and maintenance of PTSD, anxiety, and OCD, particularly in peripartum women. She is conducting her PhD project in the Lab where she is using network analysis to study the dynamic relationships among trauma symptoms, emotion regulation, and external factors across the perinatal period.  

Clinical Research Coordinators

Ainsley Belisle

Ainsley Belisle, MS

Ainsley is a recent graduate of UCLA with an M.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, where she studied the causal mechanisms of women’s reproductive health from an evolutionary perspective. Prior to joining the lab, she completed her B.S. in Evolutionary Anthropology and Neuroscience at the University of Michigan. She leads the coordination of the BIRTH Study and is passionate about advancing our understanding of women’s mental health. In her free time, she enjoys practicing yoga, reading a good book, and caring for two extremely high-maintenance orange tabbies. 


Sabrina Chan

Sabrina Chan, BS

Sabrina earned her BS degree in Behavioral Neuroscience from Northeastern University and conducted her honors thesis in the Lab on the effect of intranasal oxytocin on postpartum depression and maternal infant bonding. Over the course of her time in the Lab, she has authored 12 publications (PMID 36093354, PMID 37886525, PMID 37162947, PMID 35598158, PMID 35772629, PMID 34188137, PMID 33412491, PMID 33276245, PMID 32705348), of which two are first author (PMID 32480118, PMID 35640702) and 1 is co-first author (PMID 35772629). Sabrina has presented her work in two poster presentations at the ISTSS conference (2019, 2020). She will matriculate to a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) beginning in summer 2024 to combine her passion for clinical and translational research with the ability to treat mental and physical health holistically.


Ananya Iyengar

Ananya Iyengar, BS

Ananya graduated from Northeastern University, where she studied Biology, Psychology, and Behavioral Neuroscience. She joined the Lab in the spring of 2021, as part of Northeastern’s co-op program, and has primarily worked on assessing mother-infant interactions and postpartum PTSD as part of the Maternal Brain Study. She is first author on the Dekel Lab publication PMID 35598158. She plans to attend medical school in the future. Outside of school and research, Ananya enjoys traveling and plant-based cooking. 


Christina Pham

Christina Pham, BA

Christina graduated from Harvard College, where she studied English Literature with a minor in Mind, Brain, and Behavior. In the Dekel Lab, she leads coordination for the Expressive Writing study, assists with the BIRTH study, and conducts child developmental assessments. She is a coauthor on the Dekel Lab’s systematic review and meta-analysis of interventions to prevent and treat childbirth-related PTSD (CB-PTSD) (PMID 38122842). She hopes to attend medical school in the future. In her free time, Christina enjoys writing and traveling. 

Research Interns

Sophia Capote

Sophia Capote

Sophia is a second-year undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Business Administration at Northeastern University. She is currently a Research Intern with the Dekel Lab and is assisting in the BIRTH study and Expressive Writing Study. After graduation, Sophia plans to attend graduate school and become a specialized psychologist. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends, listening to music, and going to the beach. 


Sofia Fox

Sofia Fox

Sofia is a graduate student at Northeastern University pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Health. She holds a B.S. from Georgetown University that focused on Biotechnology and Global Health. She is completing her practicum at the Lab and assisting with various studies. After graduation in May 2025, Sofia hopes to enter the field of public health and work as an epidemiologist. In her free time, she enjoys playing sports, travel, trying new restaurants, and being with friends.


Chloe Lee

Chloe Lee

Chloe is a fourth-year undergraduate student at Northeastern University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry with a minor in Behavioral Neuroscience. As a Research Intern in the Dekel Lab, Chloe contributes to a number of studies, including the BIRTH Study, fMRI Study, and Expressive Writing Study. After graduation, Chloe hopes to attend medical school specializing in a surgical field with a focus on underserved populations and emphasis on global medicine. In her free time, Chloe enjoys bouldering, listening to music, and creating collages. 


Evelyn Milavsky

Evelyn Milavsky

Evelyn is a third-year undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Cell and Molecular Biology with minors in French and Ethics at Northeastern University. Currently, she is assisting with the BIRTH Study and Expressive Writing Study as a Co-op Intern in the Lab. In the future, Evelyn hopes to attend medical school to become an OB/GYN with a focus on LGBTQ+ and minority populations. In her free time, she enjoys reading, exploring museums, and doing arts and crafts with friends. 


Salma Mokhtar

Salma Mokhtar

Salma is a sophomore at Northeastern University majoring in Behavioral Neuroscience. As a Research Intern in the Dekel Lab, Salma is assisting with the recruitment and assessments of mothers in the Maternal Brain Study and is also involved in the BIRTH Study and Nigeria Obstetric Wellness (NOW) Project. She coauthored the Dekel Lab’s publication validating the PCL-5 questionnaire (PMID 37981091) She hopes to pursue a career in psychiatry in the future. In her free time, Salma enjoys watching films and documentaries, and loves drawing. 


Rania Mudassar Saeed

Rania Mudassar Saeed

Rania is a fourth-year undergraduate student at Northeastern University majoring in Psychology and minoring in Cellular and Molecular Biology. As a Research Intern in the Dekel Lab, Rania contributes to various research activities and studies. After graduation, she hopes to attend medical school and work directly with underserved communities. In her free time, Rania enjoys listening to and making music, cooking, and spending time with her friends and family. 


Benjamin Wasserman

Benjamin Wasserman

Benjamin is a second-year undergraduate student at Northeastern University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with minors in Nutrition and Behavioral Neuroscience. As a Research Intern in the Dekel Lab, Benjamin contributes to a number of studies, including the BIRTH Study and Expressive Writing Study. He hopes to pursue a career in clinical psychology in the future, with a focus on the mind-body connection. In his free time, Benjamin enjoys Pilates/yoga, cooking, trying new restaurants, and spending time with his friends and family. 

Computational Team

Vishal Desai

Vishal Desai, B.Eng.

Vishal is a graduate student pursuing a Master’s in Information Systems with a focus on Data Science and Data Analytics. He has also completed his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering. He is committed to continuous learning and staying at the forefront of emerging technologies and methodologies in data science. With a passion for innovation and a drive to make a positive impact, Vishal looks forward to leveraging his skills and expertise to tackle the challenges of improving maternal mental health.


Ashutosh Devpura

Ashutosh Devpura, B.Tech.

Ashutosh completed his Bachelor's degree in Information Technology and is currently pursuing a Master's in Data Analytics Engineering at Northeastern University. His ultimate goal is to blend Machine Learning with health initiatives, revolutionizing how we understand and approach wellness. He is excited to be contributing to advancing maternal mental healthcare as a member of the Dekel Lab.


Sai Koushik Gandikota

Sai Koushik Gandikota, B.Tech.

Sai Koushik is a graduate student at Northeastern University, specializing in Data Analytics for his Master of Science degree. His expertise lies in Statistical Modeling, which enhances data performance for modeling. Additionally, he possesses skills in developing and managing data pipelines, coupled with substantial knowledge about medical data. This expertise enables him to preprocess and uphold data integrity effectively. He is enthusiastic about applying his statistical skills to peripartum maternal health data, aiming to contribute positively to society.


Yujia Hong

Yujia Hong, MS

Yujia is a graduate student at Northeastern University specializing in Applied Mathematics, with an undergraduate background in Medical Experimental Technology. She developed an interest in Bioinformatics and Machine Learning involving various programming methods. This combination of fields allows her to approach complex biological data through mathematical models. She is excited about the potential of these tools to transform healthcare and scientific inquiry, and she is applying her skills on the Dekel Lab’s research to improve maternal mental health.


Meet Jain

Meet Jain, B.Eng.

Meet is currently pursuing a Master's in Health Informatics at Northeastern University after completing his Bachelor's in Biomedical Engineering from Mumbai University. He is dedicated to applying data science, machine learning, and health informatics to deliver innovative solutions that improve healthcare systems and patient outcomes. As a member of the Dekel Lab’s Computational Team, he is working to advance the state of knowledge about maternal mental health.


Bhavya Modi

Bhavya Modi, PharmD

Bhavya earned his PharmD degree and is currently pursuing a MS in Regulatory Affairs at Northeastern University. Bhavya is enthusiastic to contribute to the Dekel Lab’s research to advance maternal mental health. Bhavya’s ultimate goal is to be committed to continuous learning, staying abreast of emerging trends, and contributing to advancements in regulatory affairs through research, advocacy, and collaboration. 


Avinash Ranga

Avinash Ranga, B.Tech.

Avinash is a Northeastern University Master of Science student in Data Analytics Engineering, skilled in data modeling, processing, and visualization, coupled with expertise in statistical analysis. His fervor for data analytics extends to a particular enthusiasm for applying computational methods to healthcare data. He is driven by a passion to uncover meaningful insights through data, contributing to the advancement of knowledge and solutions in the dynamic field of analytics. He is excited to be contributing to the Dekel Lab’s computational research to advance maternal mental health care.


Guoning Rong

Guoning Rong, BS

Rong earned his International Studies Global Health bachelor's degree from the University of Utah. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he worked as a service officer at Huntsman Cancer Institution for one year. He is currently a second-year Master’s of Science student majoring in Health Informatics at Northeastern University. Based on his experience working in the healthcare field, he will contribute to the Dekel Lab’s computational work via data analysis, including machine learning and data mining. He loves playing video games and traveling in his free time.


Rishi Gautam Shelly

Rishi Gautam Shelly, B.Eng.

Rishi is currently pursuing a Master's of Science in Information Systems at Northeastern University. He has interests in data analysis, database design, and data visualization using Python, SQL, R, and BI tools. He is skilled in technologies including MySQL, SQL Server, Power BI, and Tableau. Rishi is passionate about leveraging data to drive informed decision-making and organizational success. A quick learner with strong problem-solving and communication skills, Rishi is enthusiastic to be contributing to the Dekel Lab’s computational work to improve the mental health of peripartum women.


Apoorv Vats

Apoorv Vats, B.Tech.

Apoorv is a Data Analytics Master’s of Science student at Northeastern University in Boston. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering. Apoorv is genuinely passionate about exploring the intricacies of programming languages, databases, and machine learning algorithms, focusing on maternal mental health research. He seeks to contribute meaningfully to the world of analytics, showcasing a dedication to continuous learning and growth.


Giri Manohar Vemula

Giri Manohar Vemula, B.Tech.

Giri is a dedicated Master's of Science student specializing in Data Analytical Engineering at Northeastern University. His academic journey began with a strong foundation in computer science from the Vellore Institute of Technology in India. He is fueled by a passion for data and its potential to influence decisions. Being a technology enthusiast, he loves to work in the Dekel Lab’s professional environment where he can contribute and enrich his analytical skills according to the latest technologies, and work towards achieving the Lab’s goal of enhancing maternal mental health. He is deeply enthusiastic about harnessing technology to solve complex problems and drive innovation.

Collaborators

List of collaborators

Research Positions

Group of people at a table

We have ongoing research opportunities in our lab. To learn about postdoctoral and research fellowship positions, please contact Dr. Sharon Dekel at sdekel@mgh.harvard.edu

Research Volunteers: We are seeking student volunteers to assist with the operation of ongoing clinical research studies in our lab. Primarily responsibilities will involve screening candidates and recruiting subjects, data entry, and assisting with conducting the biological and psychological assessments of subjects as needed. Ideal candidates will be highly motivated with the strong interpersonal skills necessary to interact with patients and succeed in a dynamic work environment. If you are interested, please send your cover letter and resume to our clinical research coordinator, Ms. Christina Pham at cpham4@mgh.harvard.edu.

News and Achievements

Lab Achievements

  • The Dekel Lab is excited to welcome new postdoctoral research fellow Kelimer Lebron, who is funded under an NIH/NICHD Research Supplement to Promote Re-Entry in Health-Related Research granted to Dr. Dekel. Her project is titled Childbirth Trauma and Maternal PTSD: Examining Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Maternal Mental Health. (February 2024)
  • Congratulations to our clinical research coordinator, Christina Pham, who was a finalist in the 2024 Massachusetts General Research Institute (MGRI) Science Images competition!
  • The Dekel Lab is grateful to receive our new NIH grant to study The Effects of Expressive Writing Following Traumatic Childbirth. (2023)
  • Bravo!!! Dr. Dekel has been awarded a 5-year NIH R01 grant to study 1,000 pregnant women and reveal the risk factors and course of PTSD following childbirth and its impact on the developing child. Thank you NICHD for supporting science to promote maternal mental health.
  • Dr. Dekel is the recipient of the 2022 MGH ECOR ISF Research Award in support of her work on PTSD following childbirth
  • Dr. Dekel was awarded in June 2021 an NIH grant to promote diversity in health related-research. Congratulations!
  • Great news! Our lab has received Harvard’s 2020-2021 Mind Brain Behavior Research Relief Faculty Award!
  • Dr. Dekel was awarded an NIH grant entitled “Neural underpinnings of postpartum adaptation following traumatic delivery and implications for infant development"
  • Dr. Dekel was awarded an NIH grant entitledPredictive modeling of peripartum depression”

  • Dr. Dekel has been awarded the Harvard’s 2020 Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative faculty award!

  • Congratulations to Dr. Dekel for receiving Mass General's Executive Committee On Research Award, 2019 Deliberative Interim Support Funding
  • Congratulations to Dr. Dekel for receiving the 2019 CFD Award

Highlighted Mentions in News

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Publications

View all publications of the Dekel Lab

Selected Publications (Most recent first)

Screening for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Following Childbirth Using the Peritraumatic Distress Inventory. Jagodnik KM, Ein-Dor T, Chan SJ, Titelman Ashkenazy A, Bartal A, Dekel S. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2024. Volume 348, 1 March 2024, Pages 17-25. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2023.12.010

Preventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Following Childbirth: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Dekel S, Papadakis J, Quagliarini B, Pham CT, Pacheco-Barrios K, Hughes F, Jagodnik KM, Nandru R (2023) American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (AJOG). In Press; Available online 18 December 2023. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2023.12.013

Establishing the Validity of a Diagnostic Questionnaire for Childbirth-related Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Arora IH, Woscoboinik GG, Mokhtar S, Quagliarini B, Bartal A, Jagodnik KM, Barry RL, Edlow AG, Orr SP, Dekel S. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (AJOG). 2023. In Press; Available online 21 November 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2023.11.1229

The Role of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis in Depression across the Female Reproductive Lifecycle: Current Knowledge and Future Directions. Hantsoo L, Jagodnik KM, Novick AM, Baweja R, Lanza di Scalea T, Ozerdem A, McGlade EC, Simeonova DI, Dekel S, Kornfield SL, Nazareth M, Weiss SJ. Frontiers in Endocrinology. 2023. Volume 14. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2023.1295261

Increased traumatic childbirth and postpartum depression and lack of exclusive breastfeeding in Black and Latinx individuals. Iyengar AS, Ein-Dor T, Zhang EX, Chan SJ, Kaimal AJ, Dekel S. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2022 May 22. PMID: 35598158.

Peripartum effects of synthetic oxytocin: The good, the bad, and the unknown. Rashidi M, Maier E, Dekel S, Sütterlin M, Wolf RC, Ditzen B, Grinevich V, Herpertz SC. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 141. 2022,104859. PMID:36087759. DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2022.104859

Identifying Women with Post-Delivery Posttraumatic Stress Disorder using Natural Language Processing of Personal Childbirth Narratives. Bartal A, Jagodnik KM, Chan MSJ, Babu MMS, Dekel S. Am J Obstet Gynecol MFM2022 Dec 9; 100834doi: 10.1016/j.ajogmf.2022.100834. PubMed PMID: 36509356; NIHMSID:NIHMS1856600.

Traumatic childbirth during COVID-19 triggers maternal psychological growth and in turn better mother-infant bonding. Babu MS, Chan SJ, Ein-Dor T, Dekel S. J Affect Disord. 2022 Jun 27; 313:163-166. PMID: 35772629. PMCID: PMC7889625

Validation of Childbirth-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Using Psychophysiological Assessment. Chan SJ, Thiel F, Kaimal AJ, Pitman RK, Orr SP, Dekel S. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2022 May 28. PMID: 35640702.

Increased traumatic childbirth and postpartum depression and lack of exclusive breastfeeding in Black and Latinx individuals. Iyengar AS, Ein-Dor T, Zhang EX, Chan SJ, Kaimal AJ, Dekel S. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2022 May 22. PMID: 35598158.

COVID‑19 positivity associated with traumatic stress response to childbirth and no visitors and infant separation in the hospital. Mayopoulos GA, Ein-Dor T, Li KG, Chan SJ, Dekel S. Scientific Reports. 2021, 11:1353; doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-92985-4

Association of sexual assault history with traumatic childbirth and subsequent PTSD. Berman Z, Thiel F, Kaimal AJ, Dekel S. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2021. DOI: 10.1007/s00737-021-01129-0.

COVID-19 is associated with traumatic childbirth and subsequent mother-infant bonding problems. Mayopoulos GA, Ein-Dor T, Dishy GA, Nandru R, Chan SJ, Hanley LE, Kaimal AJ, Dekel S. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.12.101

Traumatic memories of childbirth relate to maternal postpartum posttraumatic stress disorder. Thiel F, Berman Z, Dishy GA, Chan SJ, Seth H, Tokala M, Pitman RK, Dekel S. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 2021;77: 102342. DOI: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102342.

Maternal psychological growth following childbirth. Berman Z, Thiel F, Dishy GA, Chan SJ, Dekel S. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2020. DOI: 10.1007/s00737-020-01053-9.

Risk factors for developing posttraumatic stress disorder following childbirth. Chan SJ, Ein-Dor T, Mayopoulos P, Mesa M, Sunda R, McCarthy B, Kaimal A, Dekel S. Psychiatry Research. May 2020;290: 113090. 10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113090

Beyond postpartum depression: Posttraumatic stress-depressive response following childbirth. Dekel S, Ein-Dor T, Dishy G, Mayopoulos P. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2020;23: 557-564. DOI:10.1007/s00737-019-01006-x. PMID: 31650283

Peritraumatic dissociation in childbirth-evoked posttraumatic stress and postpartum mental health. Thiel F, Dekel S. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2019; 23: 189-197. PMID: 31115689. DOI: 10.1007/s00737-019-00978-0

Delivery mode is associated with maternal mental health following childbirth. Dekel S, Ein-Dor T, Berman Z, Barsoumian I, Agarwal S, Pitman RK. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2019; 22: 817–824. PMID: 31041603. DOI: 10.1007/s00737-019-00968-2

Dynamic course of peripartum depression across pregnancy and childbirth. Dekel S, Ein-Dor T, Ruohomäki, A, Lampi J, Voutilainen S, Tuomainen TP, Heinonen S, Kumpulainen K, Pekkanen J, Keski-Nisula L, Pasanen M, Lehto SM. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2019; 113:72-78. PMID: 30921631.

Is childbirth-induced PTSD associated with low maternal attachment? Dekel S, Thiel F, Dishy G, Ashenfarb A. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2019; 22:119-122. PMID: 29786116. DOI: 10.1007/s00737-018-0853-y

Examining symptom clusters of childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Thiel F, Ein-Dor T, Dishy G, King A, Dekel S. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. 2018; 20(5). PMID: 30277674.

Differences in cortisol response to trauma activation in individuals with and without comorbid PTSD and depression. Dekel S, Ein-Dor T, Rosen JB, Bonanno GA. Frontiers in Psychology. 2017; 8:797. PMID: 28572779. 

Childbirth induced posttraumatic stress syndrome: A systematic review of prevalence and risk factors. Dekel S, Stuebe C, Dishy G. Frontiers in Psychology. 2017; 8:560. PMID: 28443054. DOI: 10.1007/s00737-018-0853-y

Peripartum depression, traditional culture, and Israeli society. Dekel S, Stanger V, Georgakopoulos ER, Stuebe CM, Dishy GA. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2016; 72(8):784-94. PMID: 27487164.

PTSD symptoms lead to modification in the memory of the trauma: a prospective study of former prisoners of war. Dekel S, Solomon Z, Ein-Dor T. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2016; 77(3):e290-6. PMID: 26796992.

Posttraumatic stress disorder and depressive symptoms: joined or independent sequelae of trauma? Dekel S, Solomon Z, Horesh D, Ein-Dor T. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2014; 54:64-9. PMID: 24703578.

Cortisol and PTSD symptoms among male and female high-exposure 9/11 survivors. Dekel S, Ein-Dor T, Gordon KM, Rosen JB, Bonanno GA. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 2013; 26(5):621-5. PMID: 24030869.

Changes in trauma memory and patterns of posttraumatic stress. Dekel S, Bonanno G. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy. 2013; 5(1):26-34.

Secondary salutogenic effects in veterans whose parents were Holocaust survivors? Dekel S, Solomon Z, Rozenstreich E. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2013; 47(2):266-71. PMID: 23168139.

Self-enhancement among high-exposure survivors of the September 11th terrorist attack: resilience or social maladjustment? Bonanno GA, Rennicke C, Dekel S. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2005; 88(6):984-98. PMID:15982117.