During the Covid-19 pandemic, restrictions on partners attending scans, appointments, inductions, early labour and the postnatal ward came into place, initially to protect both birthing families and the healthcare workers supporting them. Several months later, it became clear that these restrictions were proving very impactful on the families, and negative outcomes – including traumatic births, stillbirths, and birthing people birthing alone – were anecdotally increasing. It was also clear that the changes in the way care was being managed – and especially the absence of doulas during labour, and the absence of partners in the postnatal ward – was also resulting in an increased pressure on midwives and other members of the medical team, who were working longer hours in difficult conditions trying to fill the gap.
The doulas at The BirthBliss Academy launched the #ButNotMaternity campaign as restrictions began to ease in other industries to highlight that while life was returning to normal for restaurants, gyms, shops, hairdressers, nail salons and more, it wasn’t for maternity. We wrote an open letter to Professor Whitty, Matt Hancock and NHS England to outline our concerns – and joined with other birth-focused organisations including Holly Avis’s Change.org petition to call for action from the country’s leaders. MP Alicia Kearns also leant her support to the campaign and wrote an open letter, signed by 60 other MPs, calling for an end to the restrictions.
We remain concerned about the long-term impact of the restrictions and the lack of evidence for their continued implementation. The government’s guidance states that hospital trusts should now be allowing partners to attend all scans and in all stages of labour - and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Midwives agree, stating that visiting should be reintroduced wherever possible.
Many trusts have now lifted the restrictions they had in place, but if your local trust has not, you can ask when they plan to, and what barriers are preventing them from doing it now. Many trusts are allowing additional support on a case-by-case basis, so asking the question is the first step to getting the support you need. You can find more support and template letters on AIMS website and more information how to contact your local MP on the Birthrights website.
The pandemic restrictions have inspired doulas across the country, and in fact the world, to find new ways of working and supporting birthing families. While postnatal and birth doulas are still able to work as normal within the regulations, they have also found ways to offer care that each family feels comfortable with. From virtual antenatal preparation, support during birth, which can start as physical at home, and transfer to virtual if their chosen hospital doesn’t currently permit a second birth partner, and postnatal support that can be in-person, or distanced, as suits the family, doulas are supporting families when they need it most. To find a doula near you, click here.