Today’s blog post was going to be about a totally different subject, but I’ve just seen this petition and I think it’s so important that I want to share and write about it now.
Due to Covid 19, many hospitals (not just in the UK) are restricting the presence of birth partners on wards before and after births, only allowing their presence for women in active labor. However, there is now concern that some hospitals may be considering stopping birth partners from attending at all, and requiring women to labor in hospital alone.
This is a serious cause for concern. Continuous support from a birth partner is associated with improved outcomes for women and babies, including a reduction in the requirement for interventions. Unsurprisingly, it can be difficult for women to advocate for themselves while they are in the middle of giving birth, and they need to have a supportive, trusted person on hand who can do that for them.
One of the reasons I feel strongly about this is my personal experience. When I gave birth, I was induced and I dilated extremely quickly, much faster than the midwife expected. I had been told they would check on my dilation after four hours, and they were expecting progress of about half a centimetre per hour. Until I reached 4cm dilated I was not going to be allowed gas and air, all I could have was paracetamol or an epidural. After 2 hours I was in so much pain that I asked for an epidural as I couldn’t see how I could cope with twelve hours or more of it, but no anaesthetist was available. Shortly after that, I felt my body starting to push, and told the midwife, but she didn’t believe I could be that far along. It was only because my husband was there and was insistent that they check what was going on, that the midwife looked, at which point she realised that I was fully dilated and in the process of pushing the baby out! Cue a massive panic because she was not ready for that stage of labor (and for some reason this seemed to require a lot of online paperwork) but at least I finally got the gas and air. If my husband hadn’t been there to advocate for me, god knows at what point they would have realised the baby was on its way, because I was in no position to have a debate and in the absence of any real pain relief could barely talk.
For some women, the presence of a birth partner and advocate is even more important. Black women are five times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth when compared to white women in the UK. Mixed race and Asian women also suffer a higher risk of death. These women are being let down by our health system and the professionals who attend them. They need to have the support of a trusted partner when giving birth, and are likely to be disproportionately badly affected by any ban on attending birth partners.
In America, where some hospitals had already enacted a ban on birth partners, they have been forced to back down after a public outcry. Let’s make sure that a ban of this nature can’t happen in the UK.
The irony is that in the US, the bans were enacted after asymptomatic pregnant women, who were carrying the virus without knowing, infected hospital workers during labour. But restricting the presence of birth partners obviously does nothing to reduce the risk of labouring mothers transmitting the virus – they still have to be in hospital. Instead, we would protect both women, babies and health workers far better by ensuring that UK midwives, doctors and nurses are provided with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect them from the risk of transmission from women or birth partners during labour. So far the government and Public Health England have been absolutely woeful at ensuring staff are protected with sufficient PPE in line with WHO guidelines. We’ve heard a lot about companies being drafted in to supply more ventilators – but PPE is just as important.
Please sign the petition here: change.org