New mothers are suffering needless trauma and anxiety due to Covid-19 restrictions during pregnancy and birth, according to a campaign group trying to reform strict Department of Health rules.

The Mothers Matter #marchformaternity Campaign group is urgently calling for Health Minister Robin Swann to reconsider the safety rules governing the involvement of birthing partners at antenatal appointments, labour and birth and on postnatal wards.

They have organised a series of online action days culminating this Friday  (23 October) at 1pm with a discussion between birth workers and political representatives to find practical ways to improve restrictions on maternity services.

The campaign was started by Claire Hackett, Emma Fraser and Leslie Altic, all birth workers who support women and their partners through pregnancy and birth.

“The current rules force women to attend some appointments on their own and also mean that the birth partner can only come into the delivery suite once the woman is in labour. This is causing additional anxiety during an already stressful time,” Claire Hackett said.

They are holding a series of online action days in a bid to change current restrictions, which have forced many mums to go through parts of the birthing process alone.

“For months we have watched the way parents were being treated in the name of Covid-19 prevention and it’s simply heart breaking. We felt we had to speak out, we couldn’t sit by and let this continue to happen when there are simple alternative solutions that would save the NHS money in the long run,” Claire said.

One mum-to-be Colleen Tunney spoke during the first action day, explaining that the restrictions were causing additional stress for parents. She is now 27 weeks pregnant but having had a previous stillbirth, every antenatal appointment is a time of worry and she says she would feel more supported if her husband was there.

“Anyone who has lost a baby will know the worry you have that you’ll hear bad news when you go to an appointment. The anxiety builds up and you just need your partner there with you,” she said.

The Mothers Matter #marchformaternity Campaign is calling for health reforms that take into consideration the following:

· Partners are not ‘visitors’ and the woman and her birth partner should be treated as a unit, where the partner can attend all appointments, labour and birth and on the postnatal ward.

· Pregnancy is not an illness and maternity care has specific considerations that current punitive restrictions fail to take into account.

“We understand the need to keep women, their babies and staff safe during the pandemic. But having a baby is a vulnerable time for parents and women need their birth partner, who is often the other parent to the baby and someone they know and trust, with them for physical and emotional comfort and supportWe feel that this is a human rights issue as their birth choices are being stripped away,” said organiser Leslie Altic.

In addition, the three women say that a lack of support can have a knock-on effect on physical and mental health issues.

“The physiological and mental health impact of restrictions, through increased rates of intervention, increased rates of perinatal mental health issues, and birth trauma can have a financial impact on our already stretched health services,” Emma Fraser added.

Their series of actions kicked off on last Sunday (18 October) with an online discussion by parents who have experienced pregnancy and birth during the pandemic.

This will be followed this evening (Tuesday 20 October) at 8pm with a discussion on the impact of the restrictions beyond birth, looking at birth trauma and mental health.

Finally on Friday (23 October) at 1pm they will be joined by birth workers and political representatives to look at what practical considerations need to be taken into account when looking at restrictions on maternity services and why they are important.

For more information go to https://www.facebook.com/mothersmatterni/

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