Afterbirth support provision for women following a traumatic/distressing birth: Survey of NHS hospital trusts in England

Thomson, Gillian orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-3392-8182 and Garrett, Charlotte (2019) Afterbirth support provision for women following a traumatic/distressing birth: Survey of NHS hospital trusts in England. Midwifery, 71 . pp. 63-70. ISSN 0266-6138

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Despite recommendations within postnatal care guidelines, many National Health Service (NHS) hospital trusts in the UK provide an afterbirth, debriefing type service for women who have had a traumatic/distressing birth. Currently there are a lack of insights into what, how, and when this support is provided. The aim of this study was to explore afterbirth provision for women who have had a traumatic/distressing birth in NHS hospital trusts in England.

An online survey comprising forced choice and open text comments was disseminated via direct email and social media to NHS hospital trusts in England. Questions explored the types of support provided, when the support was offered, how and when the service was promoted to women, funding issues, and the role/training of service providers.

Fifty-nine respondents completed the survey, with responses from 54 different NHS hospital trusts from all geographic regions in England (40% of all trusts) included.

While the numbers of women accessing afterbirth services varied, this was often associated with a lack of dedicated funding (∼52%), and poor recording mechanisms. Some 83.3% of services had evolved based on women's needs rather than wider research/literature. Midwives are commonly the sole provider of afterbirth services (59.3%) and in 40.7% of cases the professionals who provide afterbirth support had received no specific training. In only 51.9% of trusts were ‘all’ women routinely given information about the service, and women were more likely to self-refer (79.6%) rather than be referred via routine screening (11.1%) or obstetric criteria (27.8%). Almost all services offered flexible access (92.6%) and many offered multiple contacts (70.3%). While most services enabled women to discuss and review their birth, only 55.6% furnished women with information on birth trauma. Approximately 89% of services referred women to specialist provision (i.e. mental health) as needed, although directing support within personal (63%) or wider support (55.6%) networks was less evident.

Conclusions/Implications for Practice
While women want, and value opportunities to discuss the birth with a maternity professional following a traumatic/difficult birth, evidence suggests that resource provision is insufficient, hampered by a lack of funding, publicity, and recording systems. While further research is needed, funds to establish a well-resourced, evidence-based and well-promoted service should be prioritised.

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