As lockdowns and social distancing continue to punctuate 2021, we take a look at what it really means to give birth in a global pandemic.
It may be one of the most overused expressions in recent times, but for most of us pregnancy in a pandemic really is an unprecedented situation. Where you may have previously turned to mothers, siblings and friends for tips on preparing for birth, it’s highly unlikely your loved ones will have been through this kind of situation before.
As we all continue to muddle through this new normal together, we’ve done some digging on what it’s really like to give birth in a global pandemic. From real birth stories to expert advice on your rights and the latest guidelines, here’s everything you need to know.
Pregnancy in a Pandemic: Appointments and Scans
If you’ve recently fallen pregnant, you will still be able to have the regular necessary appointments and scans. You should still plan to attend all your appointments unless you have been advised otherwise. However, as the UK continues to fight the spread of the coronavirus, there will be some changes to the usual proceedings.
It may be that some of your midwife appointments are now online, by phone or by video call. Hospitals an clinics are working tirelessly to make sure pregnant women are able to attend all their appointments, unfortunately, it is increasingly likely that some non-essential check-ups and appointments will be cancelled and/or rescheduled.
If you do visit a clinic or surgery you will be asked to wear a mask, unless you are exempt on medical grounds.
On 15th December 2020 revised guidance from the NHS suggested pregnant women in England should be permitted to have one person beside them “at all stages of her maternity journey” – meaning a partner or loved one could attend appointments as long as they did not display any Covid-19 symptoms. However, this is only guidance, and the decision to allow partners at scans and appointments still lies with the individual NHS trust.
The NHS website advises: “If you’re unsure if you can bring your partner to your appointment, ask your midwife or maternity team.”
The Importance of a Pandemic Birth Plan
Nicola Fahey, Solicitor and Legal Director at Lime Solicitors, who specialises in Clinical Negligence Claims, with a particular interest in Gynaecological and Obstetric claims, says it’s more important than ever to have a birth plan – even if the plan is likely to change.
“With all this uncertainty, the birthing plan is now more important than ever. As a mum of two boys, aged three and one, I would have previously said do not spend too much time on a plan, Nicola explains.
“However, with the prospect of having no birthing partner present for all stages of labour the birthing plan is now an important tool.”
For Nicola, it’s all about being as clear and concise as possible: “It is vital to make the birthing plan as to the point and as short as possible whilst covering all of the main points, midwifes on labour wards are busy people and they are not going to have the time to read through pages and pages. A short paragraph of bullet points is more likely to be considered.
“Research is the key particularly in relation to the different pain relief options, listing your order of preference. If assisted delivery becomes a possibility, research will allow you to list clearly your order of preference.”
Research is Key
Nicola is a firm believer that now, more than ever, it’s essential to be aware of your rights and the possible procedures before your prepare to give birth in a pandemic.
“You may be asked to sign a consent form for an induction, epidural, assisted delivery, c-section or pain relief,” she explains.
“It would be a good idea to spend some time researching all of these things to make yourself aware of the risks and benefits in the event you are not able to take this in during labour. Normally your choice of birthing partner could assist you with such a decision but if they are not there you need to think about what you would be prepared to consent to and in what circumstances in advance.
Nicola adds: “Now more than ever research and preparation in advance of labour is key to ensure that your wishes are adhered to and that you have a voice in labour.”
As with guidance on partners attending scans, there has been much confusion and changing guidelines on birth partners throughout the various stages of the pandemic in England.
Although we have plunged into a third lockdown on England, it looks as though guidance on birth partners has not changed since the revisions made in December 2020 (which stated women can have one person with them ‘at all stages of her maternity journey’).
As it stands, the NHS website states ‘you’ll be able to have a birth partner during labour and the birth if they do not have symptoms of coronavirus. But there may be limits on how long they can stay after the birth.’
If your birth partner has symptoms, they may not be able to come with you.
Nicola Fahey, Solicitor and Legal Director at Lime Solicitors, says its best to prepare for all sorts of eventualities: “It would be a good idea to have a backup birthing partner on hand in the event that your first-choice birthing partner develops symptoms of coronavirus or cannot be present.
“Discussing your birthing plan with them and your views on the various treatment options will ensure that they are equipped to be useful during active labour.”
Your Hospital Bag
“Finally, when packing your hospital bag make it fool proof,” says Nicola.
“A number of zippy food bags clearly marked with first outfit (tiny baby), first outfit (average size), first outfit (large baby) avoids your birthing partner making a fatal error for that very first important photograph!
“Whilst being pregnant and giving birth in a pandemic is a very worrying and anxious time there is light at the end of the tunnel with a vaccine in sight and news that NHS Wales is relaxing rules to allow partners to attend all maternity appointments in low-risk areas. And when the baby is born, classes are getting back up and running and hopefully an easing in restrictions means you can get out, buy some coffee to keep you awake and socialise.”
Birth Stories: What it’s Really Like to Give Birth in a Pandemic
Navigating the prospect of giving birth in a pandemic is an untrodden path for most women, and something your friends and family are very unlikely to have experienced themselves. On top of the limits on birth partners and visits to maternity wards, this can make pregnancy and birth in a pandemic quite an isolating experience.
Thankfully, lots of wonderful women are taking to the internet to share their pandemic birth stories and creating a community of support for mums-to-be and new mums facing the same scenario.
One woman raising awareness around pregnancy and birth during the coronavirus pandemic is Gemma Kellet, a pre and postnatal exercise specialist and postnatal wellness practitioner, and founder of online postnatal fitness programme Mama Toto.
“I video interview women together with midwives and doula’s from all over the world to help spread awareness for maternal mental health, and share these stories on my YouTube channel,” Gemma says of her latest #ibirthedinthepandemic campaign.
“I want to give these women a platform and a strong voice to speak up about their experience, empower them and to bring this community of mums together. I also want to use the stories to help reassure pregnant women of what it’s truly like to birth during this pandemic and what they may expect, as well as some helpful tips from those being interviewed.”
10 Tips from Women Who Gave Birth in the First Lockdown
While we find ourselves thrust into the throes of a national lockdown, this is definitely not our first rodeo. This means that although still a relatively novel experience, a wave of women before us have already faced the trials and tribulations of giving birth in a pandemic.
Peanut, the app which connects women throughout all stages of motherhood, asked its community of women who gave birth in the first lockdown for their advice, and below are ten tips they shared to help alleviate fears and help current mums-to-be have a positive lockdown birth experience.
- Don’t overplan
“Be open to things not going how you had ideally planned. Be at peace with it and remember that these are extraordinary times. The more you resist change, the harder this will be for you.”
2. Communicate with your partner
“This is a massively stressful time for us mums, we carry the babies and give life to them after all! But, it’s equally as stressful for the partners. Make sure you communicate your thoughts and feelings with your partner throughout this process. You’ll need each other more than ever.”
3. Get packing
“Make sure you pack headphones, chargers and snacks into your hospital bag. You might be there longer than you anticipated and, with no visitors allowed, Facetime calls with loved ones will be more important than ever.”
4. Ask for help
“You really don’t need to take everything on your shoulders. Tap into the networks and communities you have access to for support and reassurance. Whether it’s joining a community like Peanut or asking a midwife for advice: do it!”
5. Arm yourself with info
“The more information you can equip yourself with, the easier it will be to prepare for the big day and beyond. Online tutorials are super useful – you’ll be a pro in no time!”
6. Explore your options
“Being able to have my partner close by was a must for me and luckily I was low risk, so we made the choice to have a home birth – something we may not have considered before. The comfort of being at home and knowing I didn’t have to worry about childcare for my oldest child, made this an easy decision for us. Do check out your local maternity options to see if this is something you are able to do.”
7. Make it as normal as possible
“Labour is just as much about mum as it is baby. I took an eye mask and a nail file into the labour ward with me! I needed to keep a bit of normality in what is essentially the most unusual time we’ve ever lived through. Don’t be afraid to prioritise your own self-care.”
8. Enjoy it
“Easier said than done, I know. But there was something magical about having as much alone time as we did with our little girl. Without the hordes of visitors, we bonded that bit more in our little bubble of three!”
“It’s important to take time before the birth to relax and rest. Find ways to decompress and clear your mind. Pop on a meditation playlist, take a soothing bath or indulge in some gentle pregnancy yoga which will certainly help during the push phase! Importantly, you can get your mind in a place where the noise of the news isn’t taking precedent and you focus on you and your baby.”
10. Be proud of yourself
“You’ve given life in the most challenging of circumstances. Now…. start angling for that push present!”
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