There were stories of women giving birth without their partners as hospitals implemented limited interactions to prevent the virus spreading, with new mothers struggling without the support of their friends and family at such a daunting time.
When you discover you’re pregnant, there’s a lot to think about – and that’s before there’s the stress of a pandemic and lockdown into the mix. Back in March, the Government classed pregnant women as “clinically vulnerable” and advised them to closely follow social distancing rules.
As lockdown begins to ease Coronavirus rate start to drop, we spoke to Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife, and co-founder of My Expert Midwife to find out how much the last few months has impacted new mothers and what giving birth and prenatal appointments might look like in the future.
“Some of the biggest changes that women faced during this time include being unable to take partners or family members to their ultra sound scans and not being able to have their chosen birth partner with them until they are in the active phase of labour,” said Gilchrist.
She added, “Although some trusts have been able to accommodate the use of video links via FaceTime or similar methods of communication, it has been an isolating time for women when they attend their scans alone, as this is often a very important moment for them during pregnancy. Attending antenatal appointments alone has been especially challenging for those women and families facing difficult news regarding their pregnancies.”
For Gilchrist, it’s the “emotional support” that proves to be one of the most important aspects for women during labour – “new mothers need to be cared for and without their wider support network able to care for her and her partner, they have had to make do without a very important aspect of postnatal life.”
During labour women were limited to only having a birthing partner during ‘active labour’ and as Gilchrist explains, “they would need to reach the criteria of having regular strong contractions and their cervix dilating to 4cms or more. This means that the latent phase of labour or the first part of induction of labour needs to be done alone and this can take a while. Being without your birth partner during this time is obviously emotional and challenging for any woman. Even if hospital staff are present and supportive, it is not the same as having your loved ones there. “
Will this be changing anytime soon? “Hospital staff have been trying their hardest to discharge women home as soon as it is safe for them and their baby. Birth partners having extended visiting and general visiting in hospitals will recommence as soon as it is safe to do so and will be dependent on government advice.”
For those choosing to have a homebirth, things are looking more positive – “Some trusts managed to keep their homebirth services running throughout lockdown and many trusts have now been able to reopen their homebirth services or will be doing so in the near future. This has been welcomed by those who want to birth their babies at home, as well as those who would now prefer to have their babies at home rather than in hospital during the pandemic.”
What about antenatal appointments? Gilchrist told GLAMOUR, “It has been incredibly challenging to provide antenatal care, as well as keeping women, staff and the wider public safe. Many trusts have been doing online appointments and only providing face to face appointments where necessary to help reduce the spread of the virus.”
Even face-to-face appointments have been impacted and will continue to do so until the virus is no longer deemed a risk, with staff dressed in full PPE equipment, as Gilchrist says, “This can be quite daunting as facial expressions are a huge part of how we communicate non-verbally.”
Will online appointments be the norm in our new reality? Gilchrist thinks not. “It may be convenient for some women to have virtual appointments, but many women will continue to value face to face appointments more, as the relationship between mother and midwife would probably develop better for most this way.”
The pandemic also saw antenatal classes quickly move to online-only and figures released by Hypnotherapy Directory showed a 169% increase in those searching for hypnobirthing as soon-to-be parents turn to online forms of support during lockdown.
Gilchrist told us, “This adaptation has worked very well and there seems to have been a huge surge in the demand for online classes but they will suit some people more than others. Yes, they are obviously very convenient and can be accessed when someone chooses to do so but other people will always favour face to face classes for that ‘real’ human contact.”
“Due to the need for social distancing, we will be continuing in this style and once we are able to meet others, it may be a while before people feel comfortable and safe to be in the same room as others.”
While there has been a lot of discussion on the negative impact the virus has had on new and expectant mothers, it turns out there has been some silver linings too.
Gilchrist revealed, “We have had a lot of reports from midwives and breastfeeding support workers that women are taking less time to establish breastfeeding.”
She added, “One way this has been evidenced is in the increased number of babies that have reportedly returned to birthweight by day 5. They are linking this to mums and babies not being disturbed by a stream of visitors in the early days and the lockdown rules meaning that women and families are spending more time bonding together with their new arrival rather than being out and about.
Although at the moment this is anecdotal, hopefully, there will be studies in which data is collected retrospectively and any significant changes that have occurred during this period can be quantified. “
My Expert Midwife’s top tips for new and expectant mothers
- Parenthood is a new and exciting journey, but it is also an emotional and tiring time. Always try to include a routine of self-care into your day, even if it is just to have a bath alone or a walk around the block to clear your head.
- Most family and friends want to help new parents as much as they can. Adapt to the social distancing/lockdown situation by asking them to help you out doing things which will give you more time to rest with your newborn, such as delivering your shopping to your door or asking for a homecooked meal.
- Also, remember to keep in touch with your loved ones via video-calls. You will benefit from seeing familiar faces and being able to interact more fully than by audio-calls. Video calls will also help your family and friends feel more involved and able to support you better.