BirthWise, Northern Ireland’s leading maternity charity, is calling for updated guidelines from the Health Minister Robin Swann, to facilitate partners to accompany women to maternity scan appointments, and to reinstate partner visits to women in hospital. 

The charity, which focuses on the journey through pregnancy, birth, and the early days of parenthood, carried out a survey between June 22-25, asking women about their experiences around aspects of their maternity care during lockdown.

While women are extremely positive about the warm, compassionate, high quality care they receive from maternity services, they are unhappy that their partners are being excluded from scan appointments, early labour, and antenatal/postnatal visiting.

  • 86% of women responding had a scan appointment after the restrictions were implemented; all these women attended their scan appointments alone.
  • Women who were without their partner in early labour – either in an admissions/assessment unit, or an induction ward – described their experience as ‘lonely’.
  • 52% women had an in-patient stay in a ward (antenatal, induction, and/or postnatal ward) since March 2020, with the majority commenting that this contributed to them feeling alone, unsupported, or anxious. Women highlighted that partner visits would have ensured emotional and physical support.
  • 72% of women identified that the ‘twilight’ hours (5 – 8pm) would be the most useful for partner visits to the postnatal ward.

While the Covid-19 restrictions were understood and respected by women, and while there is a recognised ongoing need to maintain reduced footfall in healthcare buildings, the BirthWise survey clearly shows that women would now like to see a number of key changes, including:

  • All women should be facilitated to have a partner attend booking and anomaly scan appointments. Women who have concerns in this pregnancy, or have had a previous loss, should be facilitated to have a partner attend all appointments.
  • Partners should be facilitated to remain with women who are in early labour in admissions/assessment units or on an induction ward, and on labour wards and midwife-led units.
  • Partners should be facilitated to visit antenatal and postnatal wards once a day, and more frequently in exceptional circumstances. Women’s preferred time for such visits is the ‘twilight’ period of 5-8pm.
  • Consideration should be given to maintaining some visitor restrictions in the longer-term, given the positive feedback from women on the advantages of not having open visiting for other family members.

Some comments from women via the survey:

“I had 2 scans for viability and miscarried so not having my husband there I feel was wrong. Obviously, I get limiting the numbers limits the risk however women’s mental health as well as Covid risk should have been taken into account.”

“Not having my husband attend appointments and scans causes me serious anxiety. I suffer with severe anxiety and panic attacks and knowing in the weeks and days before I have to attend an appointment I will be very ill with anxiety.”

“Induction on my own was very difficult, I was 7cm by the time my husband was allowed into delivery suite.”

“Our baby was in an incubator for the first 24hours because she wasn’t breathing when she was born, and this was a scary thing to deal with alone.” 

The full survey report can be viewed on the BirthWise website birthwise.org.uk/reports/

PicturedSiân Mulholland. Siân is 33 weeks pregnant and is from Bangor.Her baby will be born in the Royal maternity hospital, where she also works as a midwife.

“The partner restrictions have been hard. This is our first baby and we were looking forward to sharing all these special experiences with each other. Not having my husband Conor at scans, (particularly the 20 week) is very hard for both him and me, as we feel like he has missed out. He heard our baby’s heartbeat at our booking appointment and has had no interaction since. We do understand why these measures were in place and are grateful the maternity services took the careful measures they did during the pandemic – we felt very safe. But we hope the restrictions ease slightly so we can experience a more normalised birth and that Conor can be a part of our postnatal journey in hospital.” 

 

Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan

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