Use of open-text responses to recode categorical survey data on postpartum contraception use among women in the United States: A mixed-methods inquiry of Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System data

PLoS Med. 2022 Jan 5;19(1):e1003878. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003878. eCollection 2022 Jan.


Background: Postpartum contraception prevents unintended pregnancies and short interpregnancy intervals. The Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) collects population-based data on postpartum contraception nonuse and reasons for not using postpartum contraception. In addition to quantitative questions, PRAMS collects open-text responses that are typically left unused by secondary quantitative analyses. However, abundant preexisting open-text data can serve as a resource for improving quantitative measurement accuracy and qualitatively uncovering unexpected responses. We used PRAMS survey questions to explore unprompted reasons for not using postpartum contraception and offer insight into the validity of categorical responses.

Methods and findings: We used 31,208 categorical 2012 PRAMS survey responses from postpartum women in the US to calculate original prevalences of postpartum contraception use and nonuse and reasons for contraception nonuse. A content analysis of open-text responses systematically recoded data to mitigate survey bias and ensure consistency, resulting in adjusted prevalence calculations and identification of other nonuse themes. Recoded contraception nonuse slightly differed from original reports (21.5% versus 19.4%). Both calculations showed that many respondents reporting nonuse may be at a low risk for pregnancy due to factors like tubal ligation or abstinence. Most frequent nonuse reasons were not wanting to use birth control (27.1%) and side effect concerns (25.0%). Other open-text responses showed common themes of infertility, and breastfeeding as contraception. Comparing quantitative and qualitative responses revealed contradicting information, suggesting respondent misinterpretation and confusion surrounding the term "pregnancy prevention." Though this analysis may be limited by manual coding error and researcher biases, we avoided coding exhaustion via 1-hour coding periods and validated reliability through intercoder kappa scores.

Conclusions: In this study, we observed that respondents reporting contraception nonuse often described other methods of pregnancy prevention and contraception barriers that were not included in categorical response options. Open-text responses shed light on a more comprehensive list of pregnancy prevention methods and nonuse options. Our findings contribute to survey questions that can lead to more accurate depiction of postpartum contraceptive behavior. Additionally, future use of these qualitative methods may be used to improve other health behavior survey development and resulting data.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Coding / statistics & numerical data*
  • Contraception / statistics & numerical data*
  • Contraception Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Postpartum Period*
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Assessment*
  • United States
  • Women

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.