Birthing Partners

Pregnant women will welcome new guidance from NHS England, released in December. There is a change in the COVID-19 restrictions that have prevented birthing partners from attending any pre-natal appointments.

What are the current restrictions?

Since March, depending on the NHS trust, partners have been unable to accompany expectant mothers to maternity appointments. This includes scans, blood tests and early labour, as part of an effort to prevent the spread of COVID.

Many women have received news of miscarriage or foetal abnormality without a partner there to support them. In some NHS trusts, partners are not allowed to attend labour until the cervix is 4-5cm dilated. This has resulted in them missing the birth entirely.

Even in cases where the partner has been present for the labour, they are asked to leave as soon as the baby is born, which many new mothers report to be a very traumatic experience.

What is the new guidance for maternity care?

The new guidance issued by NHS England states that partners should now be allowed to be present for all maternal care. From antenatal appointments right through to labour and the postnatal period.

Before this happens, hospitals will need to have carried out thorough risk assessments to ensure that wards are COVID-secure.

This new guidance comes after months of tireless campaigning from various maternity support groups. They claim many mothers have been left traumatised after receiving devastating news or birthing alone.

How quickly will this guidance be implemented?

Whilst the guidance has been issued to all NHS trusts, it is unlikely to be actioned immediately. Steps to protect staff and patients from contracting COVID could take a while to put in place.

According to the new guidance, these steps include:

  • Conducting risk assessments throughout the hospital’s entire maternity service to find out where the presence of partners may increase the risk of COVID transmission
  • Reconfiguring space to make it more COVID-secure
  • Using rapid testing to prevent COVID from being carried onto wards

It is likely that some hospitals will say they are unable to put all these measures into place and so cannot implement the new guidelines.

What does this mean for me?

Are you pregnant, or hoping to become pregnant soon? It is advisable to check with your NHS trust if or when this new guidance is likely to become a reality for you.

If you are one of the lucky ones, you and your partner will need to be extra vigilant for signs of COVID. Also be prepared for appointments to take longer than usual. Rapid testing will need to be carried out and other precautions put in place beforehand.

While there may be some caveats, this new guidance will come as a relief to many expectant mothers in the UK and is welcomed by many maternity care providers.