A woman who provides support to pregnant woman in labour has joined a campaign fighting to lift coronavirus restrictions affecting pregnant women.
Doula and birth educator Jemma Nicholls, 33, previously shared advice for pregnant women struggling during lockdown and has now joined the fight to remove restrictions on the maternity ward.
Jemma, who has been a doula for four years, says she has “never before seen the level of traumatic and upsetting birth stories and early parenting experiences” as have been shared by pregnant women and new mums since lockdown began.
Many of these traumatic experiences have occurred because current lockdown rules do not permit partners to join pregnant women at early scans, and also limit what support is available to mums giving birth.
Jemma, and national organisation for doulas ‘BirthBliss Academy,’ feels women and people giving birth should be able to have “who they want with them” and maternity services should not be as heavily restricted – providing birthing partners and others are fully equipped in the relevant PPE.
But Derriford Hospital says its restrictions are consistent with all maternity units in Devon and need to be in place to ensure the safety and well-being of mothers, babies and staff.
‘Proper support during pregnancy, labour and the immediate postpartum are not just non-essential luxuries, they are absolutely vital’
Jemma, who leads support sessions for pregnant women as part of her business Avalowa Pregnancy and Birth, told PlymouthLive: “I’ve been a member of so many parenting groups since my first daughter was born over seven years ago. I have never before seen the level of traumatic and upsetting birth stories and early parenting experiences as I have since lockdown began.
“As a birth worker my view is that proper support during pregnancy, labour and the immediate postpartum are not just non-essential luxuries, they are absolutely vital to ensure the long term physical and emotional health of parents and babies.
“While I can understand the thought process behind the restrictions to start with, it seems incredibly unethical that people are still being subjected to these restrictions now, when so many other things have eased.
“If PPE works to protect people in shops and tourist attractions, surely the same PPE will work at an antenatal appointment, scan or for a second birth partner during labour.
“We have clearly got our priorities wrong when it comes to what lockdown restrictions have been lifted and when.”
“I know some won’t understand why we’re making a fuss, but I would urge them to search for the really heartbreaking personal experiences people are sharing under the hashtag #butnotmaternity,” she added.
Explaining the campaign, a spokesperson for BirthBliss Academy said: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions of partners attending scans and appointments, as well as the time allowed into labour wards for partners and additional support staff have now come into question.
“We believe that the restrictions currently in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak are not necessary, not based on scientific evidence, are disrespecting human rights and are not proportionate to achieve the objective of limiting the spread of the virus.
“We have written an open letter to Professor Whitty, Matt Hancock and NHS England to explain our concerns and [now] we will launch our social media campaign with the hashtag #butnotmaternity.”
Kicki Hansard, founder of the BirthBliss Academy, added: “Women and birthing people should be able to have who they want with them and their partners should be able to enjoy this special time together with their loved one.
“As restrictions are lifted in other areas of our society, maternity services need to follow suit.”
What does Derriford Hospital have to say about COVID-19 pregnancy restrictions?
Senior staff at the hospital say they recognise how distressing the restrictions can be, but say they are “essential” to the safety and well-being of mothers and babies.
A spokesperson told PlymouthLive: “Decisions regarding visiting within Maternity Services are made pan-Devon via the Local Maternity System (LMS). This ensures there is no disparity for women and their families across the four Maternity Units in the county.
“Decisions are made taking advice from experts in the field of infection control and are reflective of the COVID-19 situation within that particular area; therefore the decision in one county cannot be compared with a decision in another part of the country.
“It should be noted that the restrictions within Devon remain the norm in most Maternity Units across the country.
“Nationally the four trusts within Devon are profiled against all the maternity units in the country weekly to ensure, where decisions are different, there is a clear rationale for this.
“The vast majority of trusts continue to be in the same position as those within Devon.
“Devon LMS is again reviewing decisions pertaining to visiting next week (w/c 14/09/20) and will continue to do so throughout this difficult time.
“Further national guidance has been published this week which will be considered as part of the review.”
‘It is important we protect not just those in our care, but also our staff’
Explaining the importance of the restrictions, the spokesperson added: “We absolutely recognise how distressing the restrictions are for some families.
“However it is essential the safety and well-being of mothers and babies and the staff within the unit remain at the fore of decisions made.
“Opening up, for example, all scans to an extra person would increase the number of visitors into the hospital by an additional 15,000 a year.
“We know additional footfall is associated with increased chances of transmission and as a healthcare provider it is important we protect not just those in our care, but also our staff.
“We want to ensure there is a workforce to deliver all of the care the local community should be able to expect from their local hospital.”