Birth during COVID 19: Women's stories of maternity care through the pandemic

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Summary of report content

The lockdown measures introduced in the UK to reduce the spread of COVID-19 has resulted in a rapid change in circumstances and a reorganisation of health services for pregnant women and new mothers. These changes alongside reduced face to face support from family, friends and peers have the potential to significantly impact women’s emotional wellbeing, and their perceptions and experiences of motherhood including their ability to overcome some of the challenges of early parenthood.

HW Lambeth spoke to 14 women who had given birth at Kings College Hospital between 1st April 2020 and 5th November 2020 about their antenatal care, birth story and postnatal follow up in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These interviews were conducted by telephone or via Zoom between 22nd September and the 16th December. Women interviewed lived in 4 different boroughs and ranged in age from 29 to 44 years old. 8 women had had vaginal births and 6 had had Caesarean sections. 8 were first time mums whilst 6 were having their second baby or more.

The findings indicated a broad range of experiences, both positive and negative. Absence of partners was a key theme for women’s antenatal experiences, as well as their birth stories. A lack of suitable practical and emotional support postnatally was raised by many of the women, alongside intermittent and remote follow up after discharge from hospital. The professionalism of staff, and their commitment to provide a high standard of care in incredibly challenging circumstances was also recognised by the women we spoke to. Several women felt that giving birth during the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted their mental health and wellbeing, particularly first-time mums and those who had difficult births.  Women, primarily first-time mums, who wished to breastfeed felt they were not given adequate support. The provision of postnatal follow-ups via the telephone meant that many women were able to hide their emotions and cues to mental wellbeing were not picked up.

Recommendations include:

Ensuring partners can be present for as much of the process as possible particularly for early scans and inductions.

Staffing support on the postnatal ward should be reviewed given that birth partners and visitors are more limited due to COVID –19 restrictions and therefore women are having to be more active and do more for themselves immediately after birth. 

All women who want it should be offered breastfeeding support and ensure that there is follow up available for those that still feel they need support following discharge. Postnatal follow up should be in person wherever possible. Where not possible, video call is preferable to a phone call to ensure a full assessment of women’s mental and physical wellbeing.

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General details

Report title 
Birth during COVID 19: Women's stories of maternity care through the pandemic
Local Healthwatch 
Healthwatch Lambeth
Date of publication 
Tuesday, 13 April, 2021
Date evidence capture began 
Tuesday, 22 September, 2020
Date evidence capture finished 
Wednesday, 16 December, 2020
Key themes 
Communication between staff and patients
Consent to care and treatment
Continuity of care
Digitalisation of services
Discharge
Holistic support
Lifestyle and wellbeing
Quality of care
Service closure
Service delivery organisation and staffing

Methodology and approach

Primary research method used 
Survey

Details of health and care services included in the report

Secondary care services 
Maternity
Neonatology
Community services 
Community health care services - independent midwives

Details about conditions and diseases

What type of pregnancy or maternity themes are included in the report 
New mothers

Details of people who shared their views

Age group 
25-64 years
Ethnicity 
Asian / Asian British
Mixed / multiple ethnic groups
White
Does the information include public's views? 
Yes
What was the main sentiment of the people who shared their views? 
Negative

Outcomes and impact

Were recommendations made by local Healthwatch in the report? 
Yes

Network Impact
Relationships that exist locally, regionally, nationally have benefited from the work undertaken in the report
 
Implied Impact
Where it is implied that change may occur in the future as a result of Healthwatch work. This can be implied in a provider  response, press release or other source. Implied impact can become tangible impact once change has occurred.
 
Tangible Impact
There is evidence of change that can be directly attributed to Healthwatch work undertaken in the report.