Birthing Partners During Coronavirus

In New York City recently, thousands of pregnant women were told that they would have to give birth to their children without a spouse, partner doula or indeed anyone else in attendance aside from essential hospital staff.

The strict no-visitor policy was designed to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus and to reduce the burden currently being placed on the city’s hospitals.

First, New York Presbyterian Hospital announced restrictions; next came the entire Mount Sinai Health System, and soon afterwards multiple hospitals and birth centres followed suit.

Within just a few days, a petition had been launched which called for the hospitals to rethink their decision.

The concerns related not only to the emotional wellbeing of the mothers-to-be but also to their birthing outcomes; multiple studies have shown that having the support of a family member, loved one or doula during birth reduces mortality rates, complications and the need for emergency C-sections.

“This is about safety. It is about reducing collective trauma in an already traumatic time,” commented Jessica Pournaras, the New York City doula who started the petition.

Furthermore, there were concerns that the policy could result in longer stays on maternity wards for new mothers, higher levels of readmissions and greater strain on doctors, nurses, midwives and obstetricians.

Following a widespread outcry about the policy, New York has said that it will reverse the decision, with the Governor Andrew Cuomo issuing an executive order that allows for all mothers to have one support person during the childbirth and postpartum period.

“In no hospital in New York will a woman be forced to be alone when she gives birth. Not now, not ever,” Cuomo said on Twitter.

The situation in the UK

As it stands in the UK, the coronavirus situation will not result in any mother being forced to give birth alone. However, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has advised pregnant women to prepare lists of potential alternative birth partners in the event that their spouse, doula or other birth partner is unable to attend.

This is not only because some partners will have to self-isolate if they are displaying symptoms, it is also because many may be required at home to look after self-isolating children or other family members.

The RCM says, if a birth partner has possible COVID-19 symptoms, they will not be able to attend the birth. As such, if you have any concerns about whether your birth might be impacted by the unfolding crisis, it might make sense to ask someone close to you to begin self-isolating now in order to ensure that they are ready to come to your assistance and act as your birth partner when you eventually go into labour.

Although there is very little evidence of the coronavirus proving dangerous to unborn children or newborns, pregnant women have been classed as vulnerable to COVID-19, so those close to them need to be attentive to ensure minimal risk of transmission.

As the disease is very new, our understanding of it remains in its infancy so guidance is continually being reviewed as the science becomes clearer and the impact of the disease develops.