COVID-19 has changed how women give birth. With many hospitals around the UK still placing restrictions on partners attending antenatal appointments and maternity ward visits, many women continue to experience anxiety around potentially giving birth alone.
A paper, titled ‘Women's views on the visiting restrictions during COVID-19 in an Irish maternity hospital’, published in this month's issue of BJM brings to light the fact that this fear is still very much alive. Despite visiting restrictions at maternity hospitals being an efficient way to curb a spike in SARS-CoV-2 infection, by reducing the number of people in and out of wards, it also robs families of a life-changing experience. Plus, it opens the door to postnatal anxiety coupled with a sense of resentment. In a way, it is a double-edged sword.
The study found that while women expressed visiting restrictions having its advantages, making them feel safer with less people being present, they still missed sharing experiences, like hearing baby's first heartbeat or seeing baby on scans, with their partners.
According to the BBC (2021), Bluebell Care Trust, a mental health charity which focuses on supporting families through anxiety in relation to pregnancy and birth, has seen an increase of self-referrals by 30% since the lockdown. This is a staggering figure and naturally the question that follows is what can be done to change this? The pandemic has no doubt altered every aspect of our lives but perhaps it is worth relaxing certain restrictions at certain times, such as when going into labour or having a partner present at least one scan, in order to reduce the risk of women developing postnatal depression.
‘We're looking out for where we think restrictions could be improved for parents', says Elizabeth Duff, from the National Childbirth Trust. ‘We've also called for rapid result tests to be offered to women and their partners going in, in labour.’ Flexible yet cautious easing of restrictions such as this can have a huge impact on a family's birthing experience during COVID-19.
Although I was personally lucky enough to have had my partner present during the birth of our daughter, not having him there during the scans, trisomy screening test and check-ups with the midwife was disappointing for the both of us. That being said, I emphathise with families giving birth in a pandemic. No one should have to go through this process alone or feel alienated – particularly fathers – from an incredible moment in one's life.
After a year of the UK being in lockdown, perhaps it is worth shifting our mindset from merely preventing, and surviving the pandemic, to adapting to the new way of life it has ushered in.