What is a birth debrief and when should you have one?

Medically reviewed December 2021
birth debrief maternity notes - Naytal

Short on time? Then the key things to know are:

  • A birth debrief in the opportunity to discuss your birth at length and with all of the notes from the birth to hand - this appointment should be with a trained health professional, such as a specialist midwife, or obstetrician
  • Everyone can request a birth debrief regardless of what type of birth they had
  • You can request a birth debrief months or even years after giving birth
  • Women often feel empowered, heard and reassured following a birth debrief
  • Women quite often don’t address any symptoms of PTSD following birth until they become pregnant again

 

What is a birth debrief?

A birth debrief is the opportunity for a woman or a couple to discuss the birth of their child at length with a trained professional, i.e. specialist midwife, obstetrician or mental health professional. This discussion allows women and families to go over all the documentation from the birth and find out exactly what happened and why.

Why would I need a birth debriefing?

Many women can experience birth trauma and assume it is all part and parcel of giving birth and the wondrous mix of hormones that follows. Birth trauma can arise from women experiencing frightening, unbearable and powerless births. This, as with any sort of trauma, can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD can often come hand in hand with postnatal depression, fear of future pregnancies and general anxiety surrounding birth. Some women can experience symptoms of PTSD following birth, even if, by their standards, the birth wasn’t particularly ‘traumatic’. Intrusive thoughts and images, avoidance, being on constant alert for danger (hypervigilance) and negative thoughts and emotions are all common symptoms of PTSD.

What are the benefits of a birth debrief?

Women who have had the opportunity to discuss their birth at length and with a trained professional often come away feeling empowered, with a better understanding of events. They feel reassured and to some extent believed. In these cases, a birth debrief can help some women with symptoms of postnatal depression.

Would I automatically be offered a birth debrief?

Birth debriefs are not commonplace throughout the UK and whilst some trusts offer such a service it is often led by a midwifery team, who have had little to no training in managing PTSD symptoms.

There is not enough research to demonstrate the effectiveness of a birth debrief team and for this reason there are no guidelines to offer women a specific time to discuss their birth.

Does everyone need a birth debrief?

Most women will want the opportunity to discuss their births even if it was considered ‘normal’, ie vaginal with minimal physical impact. Women often consider themselves as lucky to have a ‘healthy baby’ with childbirth being considered as a means to an end. Just because your birth isn’t considered as ‘traumatic’ doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected you in some way or other.

Many women struggle after giving birth if it hasn’t gone to plan as they feel cheated out of the birth they wanted, or disappointed with their bodies' abilities to birth. The lack of control in a birth situation can lead women to suffer from these post traumatic symptoms. If you experience any of the symptoms of PTSD regardless of what kind of birth you had, a birth debrief would certainly help.

How to request a birth debrief

If birth debriefing services are not offered to you and you feel you would benefit from an opportunity to discuss your birth at length, you are well within your rights to request a copy of your birth notes from your maternity department (some trusts may charge you a small fee for this service) and request an appointment to discuss your birth. Your midwife or GP should be able to arrange this for you.

Many women often only access after-birth support when they are pregnant again; i.e. when they are faced with the idea of giving birth again and begin to feel anxious and concerned about reliving past events. On these occasions, the after-birth support serves a dual function of helping the woman understand what has been and to prepare them for what’s to come.

Is there a certain time before a birth debrief is no longer available to me?

Many women don’t feel ready to discuss their birth for months or even years after the event, but do not worry, you will always be able to access this service and can do so when you are ready. You will also be able to access this service with your partner, but they would not be able to access this service without you due to patient confidentiality.

Looking for support with your post-birth experience? Book a consultation with our expert psychologists who offer online therapy and counselling from the comfort of your home.

Kate, Naytal Midwife

Kate has been a Midwife within the NHS for more than 15 years and supports women to work harmoniously with their bodies and tune into their intuitions.

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