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Home births will likely need to be cancelled because of coronavirus

The NHS is starting to suspend home births amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With official guidance telling us to stay at home as much as possible in order to save lives, you might assume that giving birth at home would be the best option – but medics are warning that hospitals could be the safest place.

This is particularly true for pregnant women who have symptoms of the virus. So, that’s a new, continuous cough and a high temperature.

Doctors say that because home births can require additional medical resources, they are not suitable for women who may have the illness.

The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde are among those which have already suspended home births.

‘Due to Covid-19 we will be temporarily suspending our homebirth services so we can provide safe care to all women having a baby with us,’ the Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust tweeted,

‘Your midwife will have discussed this with you, we appreciate your co-operation and apologise for the inconvenience.’

This is an incredibly difficult time to be pregnant.

The Government recently included pregnant women in the ‘vulnerable’ section of society who need to protect themselves more crefully from coronavirus.

Not only are these women now in the high-risk category, they have also had their support systems stripped away with the cancellation of antenatal and postnatal classes, groups and clinics. Birth partners are no longer able to attend appointments with them or in some cases even be present at the birth, and friends and family who would usually be a source of support are in lockdown.

Add to that a last minute change to your ideal birthing plan, and that is likely to cause a significant amount of anxiety.

‘We knew tighter restrictions were likely to come into force, but with the NHS now suspending home births in some areas of the country as well as the use of freestanding midwifery units (birth centres), anxiety will be heightened further,’ says Siobhan Miller, founder of The Positive Birth Company.

‘We know that thousands of pregnant women across the UK are concerned about not being able to give birth where they had planned, or whether they will even be able to have their birth partner with them.’ 

Siobhan says that in times of uncertainty, home can often feel like the safest place for pregnant women. She is keen to stress that home birth may still be an option for women who are showing no symptoms of coronavirus and are otherwise healthy.

‘As a first step, we recommend pregnant women should get in touch with their midwife or local maternity hospital to find out what options are available to them in their area, so they can prepare accordingly if plans have to change,’ she explains.

The Positive Birth Company has an online hypnobirthing course and is running a range of free Q&A sessions with experts on their Instagram page.

‘There’s also a huge amount of digital services and online courses available to help educate and empower pregnant women during this difficult time, and provide them with much-needed reassurance and support as well as access to a number of healthcare professionals,’ says Siobhan.

‘For those who face giving birth without their partner present, we recommend using a virtual birth partner, such as our Freya app. Freya will coach you through every surge and help you relax in between and ensure you never give birth alone.’ 

Private midwifery services have already reported an increase in people searching for support for home births because of NHS services being suspended.

‘Maternity services will do what they can to honour your birth plan. However, home births require two midwives to be away from the unit, so there may be times when this is not possible,’ said the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in a statement.

‘We are currently advising against homebirth for anyone with suspected or diagnosed Covid-19, due to the continuous monitoring and medical backup that is needed to keep you and your baby safe.’

If you are healthy and planning a home birth, this may still be possible. But, as the pandemic progresses and the pressure on the NHS increases, it may not be feasible for departments to spare two midwives for every home birth.

The Royal College of Midwives has called for the NHS to protect maternity services to safeguard pregnant women in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The warning comes as RCM research revealed that while almost one in 10 midwife posts were absent prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but now, one in five midwife roles are currently vacant.

Over a fifth of those polled reported local midwife-led maternity units have been closed, with more than a third of areas totally stopping home births.

‘While other areas of the health service can postpone and cancel procedures, there is still an ongoing need for maternity services,’ Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM told the Independent.

‘Women are still pregnant, still having babies, and they need the care and support of properly resourced maternity services. We have to ensure that midwives and maternity support workers are ring-fenced from any redeployment to ensure that women continue to receive safe care.

‘Coronavirus is exposing the gaps that already exist in maternity services. The shortage of midwives has doubled since the start of the outbreak, a situation which is only likely to worsen as the pandemic spreads further.’

There is currently little to no data available on how the virus affects women in early stages of pregnancy – including the first and second trimester.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says that the UK is conducting ‘near real-time’ surveillance of all women who develop Covid-19 during pregnancy and their newborn babies and will update their website if there is any change in their evidence.

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  • Posted on April 1, 2020