Maternity teams are working hard to keep services as normal as possible for pregnant women in their care, while ensuring their safety and the safety of staff. The last thing we want to see is hospital infection rates rising, putting vulnerable people – and the staff who care for them – at risk. To keep everyone safe some services are having to reduce the number of people coming into maternity departments, meaning visiting times are shorter or partners attend scans digitally. All women will be supported to have at least one partner with them during labour, birth and for the period immediately after the birth, except in extremely limited number of circumstances.
We understand the frustration and anxiety – it’s not the experience midwives want for the families – but the service is there for you and remain open, not only for appointments and scans but also if there are any concerns about the pregnancy or the baby’s movements.
Below we have outlined key responses:
A key change to maternity services during the first months of the pandemic has been the need to keep the number of people attending hospitals as low as possible, in order to be able to have good social distancing and reduce the risk of spreading the virus in hospital to other families and staff. This meant that partners were asked not to attend appointments, ultrasound scans or to visit on antenatal and postnatal wards from March – June 2020.
Over the summer of 2020 visiting restrictions were able to be opened up again in a phased way in many areas.
The Scottish Government published guidance on this in July 2020: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-hospital-visiting-guidance/
NHS England produced a framework on this for services in early September. Accessible here.
The RCM has also produced a briefing on re-introduction of visitors to Maternity units across the UK, including a risk assessment tool in July 2020. It is accessible here.
However, with the virus spreading more quickly again in communities across the UK during September 2020 and a growing number of local lockdowns and the return of some national restrictions, services are needing to review again local guidelines for visiting and partner attendance.
In areas of high prevalence and where additional local measures or lockdowns are in place, it is likely that the relaxing of visitor restrictions we saw over the summer, may need to be paused.
All maternity services across the UK are doing everything they can to ensure maximum access to important appointments, including scans, for partners and key support people, while also balancing that with the need to keep all of the women and families and staff working in hospitals safe.
It is best to check through your local Maternity Service’s social media channels or on their website or to ask your midwife about the current local guidance on this, so that you are prepared about what is likely to happen when you attend for appointments.
If your partner is not able to be with you at some points of your maternity care journey, the health professionals will do all they can to ensure you feel as supported and relaxed as possible and that your partner feels as engaged and involved as possible. This may mean enabling them to link in to part or all of the appointment through virtual means.
Please be reassured that as the situation with COVID-19 evolves, maternity services will also review what is safe and possible and will once again open up visiting and appointments.
It is important that any visitors follow guidance in hospitals about wearing a face covering and handwashing and maintaining a safe social distance from others. If visitor restrictions remain in place on your postnatal ward, midwifery, obstetric and support staff will be able to support the needs of all women and the practical challenges of caring for newborns after birth.
Yes, you should be encouraged and supported to have at least one well birth partner present with you during labour and birth.
Your birth partner(s) must wear a mask in hospital.
• Having a trusted birth partner present throughout labour is known to make a significant difference to the wellbeing of women in childbirth.
• If a birth partner has symptoms of coronavirus or has recently tested positive for coronavirus, we advise strongly that they do not go into the maternity suite, to safeguard the health of you, other women and babies and the maternity staff supporting you.
• In some hospitals and maternity units, restrictions on visiting remain in place which might mean that birth partners or other supportive companions are not able to attend routine antenatal appointments, or stay with women on antenatal or postnatal wards. However, this should not impact on your birth partner’s presence during your labour and the birth, unless they are unwell with coronavirus symptoms or have tested positive for coronavirus.
• We know that for some women, their chosen birth partner(s) may be from a different household due to their individual circumstances. You should be supported to have them with you, unless they are unwell with coronavirus symptoms or have tested positive for coronavirus.
• In line with new national guidance, visiting restrictions are being amended in hospitals and maternity units. The pace of this change will depend on local circumstances and will therefore vary. Some units are now able to begin easing this restriction to allow more than one birth partner to be present – please check what the local guidance is in your area. Decisions about the number of birth partners need to be made locally as they depend on the space available in labour rooms and units to support social distancing measures.
NHS Hospital teams are working hard to make hospitals as safe as possible during the pandemic and reduce the risk of virus transmission between visitors, staff and patients. Some maternity units are offering birth partners a test for Coronavirus when they come into the hospital in labour; some units will also ask partners to wear a mask in all parts of the hospital, including the labour room.
Midwives and all maternity care professionals want to make your whole pregnancy, birth and postnatal experience as positive as possible in what is an extremely challenging time for all of us. Please bear with us and be kind to staff – they are not in control of the regulations and don’t decide the local policies as individuals.
This will depend on the layout of your local maternity unit. Some units will have enough space to be able to provide you with a private room when you are being induced so that your partner should be able to be there with you. However, in some units, women are in bays with several other women during the induction process and it can be challenging in these wards to be able to support all women to have their partners with them at all times, due to the need to have social distancing as much as possible.
In some areas, it is possible to return home if all is well during the early parts of the induction process so that you can be in your own environment and have the support of your partner. Ask your local maternity team if this is available in your area.
Once you are in active labour after the first part of the induction and you are ready to move to a room on the labour or birth suite, your partner will be able to join you.
Sadly maternity units cannot allow a partner, or anyone else that has tested positive for Covid-19, to attend a birth. This is to protect you, your baby, midwives and other members of the maternity team and other women and their babies from catching the virus. Try to think about who else might be able to support you.
You are encouraged to have an alternative, trusted birth partner who is symptom free who can be with you if your ‘first choice’ birth partner is unwell and not able to be with you. Many midwives have been able to support women using video calls to stay in touch with their partners during parts of the labour and birth.
We know this is a really difficult situation, the midwives will be there to offer you support and kindness every step of the way.
Most caesarean and instrumental births in theatre are carried out under spinal or epidural anaesthetic, which means you’ll be awake, but the lower part of your body is numb and you cannot feel any pain. In this situation, everything will be done by the clinical staff – midwives, doctors (obstetricians) and anaesthetists – to keep your birth partner with you.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, staff in the operating theatre will be wearing enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent the spread of infection, which will make it more difficult for them to communicate. To enable the clinicians to assist in the birth of your baby safely, it is very important your birth partner(s) follows the instructions from the maternity team carefully and quickly.
Occasionally, a general anaesthetic (where you are put to sleep) may be used, particularly if your baby needs to be born urgently. During this type of caesarean birth, even under usual circumstances (before the coronavirus pandemic), for safety reasons it is not possible for birth partners to be present during the birth.
While the maternity team will do all they can to ensure that your birth partner(s) is present for the birth, there will be some occasions when there is a need for an urgent emergency birth with epidural or spinal anaesthetic in which it will not be possible for your birth partner(s) to be present. This is because, during an emergency, operating theatres are more high-risk environments for the potential spread of coronavirus to anyone who is present.
If it is the case that your birth partner(s) will not be able to be present during the birth, your maternity team will discuss this with you and will do everything they can to ensure that your birth partner(s) can see you and your baby as soon as possible after the birth.
We are asking you to follow the guidance below to keep yourself, your family, other families and NHS staff as safe as possible during the pandemic:
- We fully support women having at least one symptom free birth partner with them during labour and birth.
- During the coronavirus pandemic, all hospitals have been restricting visitors, but there has always been an exception for a well birthing partner during active labour and birth.
- Birth partners will be required to wear a mask or face covering when entering a hospital. This applies to birth partners when they are in the labour and birth room and in other clinical areas. Women in labour will not be asked to wear a mask.
- To help prevent spread of coronavirus to other women, their babies and key front-line healthcare staff, it is very important that you do not attend the maternity unit if you have any symptoms of coronavirus or have had any in the previous 7 days.
- If you are unwell, protect your family and NHS staff, and stay at home. To prepare for this, women and their current birth partner(s) are being encouraged to think about an alternative birth partner(s), if required. This person does not need to be from the same household as you.
- If you are supporting a woman during labour and birth, please be aware of the strict infection control procedures in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus to other pregnant women and their babies, as well as other people within the hospital and the maternity staff.
- Please wash your hands regularly with soap and water and use hand sanitiser gel in clinical areas as available.
- If you cough or sneeze, please cover your mouth with a tissue and dispose of it in a bin immediately.
- Stay in the labour room with the woman you are supporting. Do not walk around the maternity unit unaccompanied – use the call bell if you require assistance.
- If you are asked to wear any additional personal protective equipment (PPE) in addition to a mask or face covering during the labour or birth, please follow the instructions carefully and take it off before you leave the clinical area.