Women’s experiences of Covid-19 restrictions during pregnancy and postpartum: “the isolation, [that] was the hardest”
Written by Victoria Riley
The death toll resulting from the coronavirus (COVID) pandemic has now exceeded 4 million people worldwide (4,002,209; 09/07/2021; www.covid19.who.int/). Restrictions imposed on everyone have been incredibly challenging with considerable changes to life as we once knew.
Individuals that have been particularly impacted by the pandemic are those pregnant or who have recently given birth. The ‘vulnerable’ classification of pregnant women in the UK led to changes to non-essential maternity care, transferral to online appointments, lone attendance at ultrasound scans and removal of support from significant others during the early stages of labour or prolonged hospital stays after birth.
During the first lockdown in the UK, we conducted a study which aimed to understand the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on women’s pregnancy and postpartum experience. Twenty-seven interviews were conducted with women who were pregnant or had recently given birth via telephone or email between March and July 2020. Most women that we spoke to were from the West Midlands, had already given birth, and this was their first child.
Those we interviewed felt their pregnancy experience was far from what they had imagined due to the pandemic. Restrictions led to limited access to information about maternity care (i.e., appointments with midwives, ultrasound scans, hospital admission) causing increased fear and anxiety. Therefore, they resorted to non-medical online resources and help and advice from friends and family. Most of the women we interviewed suggested they had a positive birth experience and felt safe and protected from coronavirus due to the care and treatment they received from midwives and hospital staff. Yet, isolation appeared to have a considerable impact on their experiences and emotional wellbeing, resulting from lone attendance at antenatal appointments and prolonged separation from friends, family, and health professionals.
Guidance from NHS England has changed since this research was conducted, which now allows pregnant women to be supported by a significant other during antenatal appointments and labour and restricted hospital visitation after labour if a prolonged stay is required. Cases of coronavirus are now on the rise in the UK, with daily cases beginning to reflect numbers reported during early the stages of the 3rd national lockdown in England. To protect the emotional wellbeing of pregnant women and new mothers throughout this pandemic, it is essential these changes remain in place.
If you would like to read more about the study, you can gain full access to our research article (Riley, V., Ellis, N., Mackay, L., Taylor, J. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 restrictions on women’s pregnancy and postpartum experience in England: A qualitative exploration. Midwifery, 101, 103061, ISSN 0266-6138, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2021.103061) for free until 7th August 2021 by clicking the following link: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1dG1sydlU5yw%7E