Coronavirus can affect plans for birth including guidance for birth partners. Here we talk through what changes you might expect and what to think about ahead of the birth.
Having a supportive birthing partner can make a huge difference to a woman’s birth experience. It can help give them a sense of control and comfort (RCM, 2020).
But how will coronavirus affect birth partners? We provide an outline below but do keep talking to your midwifery team to stay up-to-date with developments.
You might find it useful to watch this NHS video about your care during your pregnancy and labour:
What’s the latest advice for birth partners during the coronavirus pandemic?
In September 2020, the NHS issued guidance on the re-introduction of visitors in maternity settings and hospitals (NHS, 2020). This was a change to an earlier policy which had sadly meant many women had to attend their antenatal appointments and scans alone (RCOG, 2020).
The guidance stated that partners and other supportive adults or individuals for a pregnant woman could again attend pregnancy scans, important appointments, provide support in early labour or spend time with their newborn babies on the postnatal ward (NHS, 2020).
In December 2020, NHS England issued further guidance that pregnant women in England should be permitted to have one person beside them at "all stages of their maternity journey." This could be during scans and appointments, during labour, as well as on the antenatal and postnatal wards. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, a birth partner is also permitted.
It's worth being aware that this guidance may depend on the local NHS Trust and it's worth checking with your maternity unit beforehand (RCOG, 2021).
What if my birth partner has any symptoms?
To help prevent the spread of coronavirus, it’s very important that your birth partner doesn’t attend the maternity unit if they have any symptoms of coronavirus (RCOG, 2020).
Maternity teams are therefore encouraging women and their current birth partner to think of another birth partner as a back up (RCOG, 2020).
What will happen during labour?
If you are supporting a woman during labour and birth, there will be strict infection control procedures in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus to other pregnant women and their babies, as well as other people within the hospital and maternity staff (RCOG, 2020).
You will be asked to follow these guidelines:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, and use hand sanitiser gel in clinical areas, as available.
- If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue and dispose of this in a bin immediately.
- Stay in the labour room with the woman you are supporting. You may not be able to move/walk around the labour ward unaccompanied. There will be a call bell if you require assistance.
- If you are asked to a wear a mask or any personal protective equipment (PPE) during the labour or birth, please follow the instructions carefully, and take it off before you leave the clinical area.
What happens during a caesarean birth?
If your partner is having a caesarean birth, operating theatre staff will be wearing PPE and it may be more difficult for them to communicate with you. A specific staff member will support you though. You’ll be advised to follow their instructions and talk to them if you have any questions (RCOG, 2020).
To enable the clinical staff to do their job, it’s very important that you don’t move around the operating theatre as you risk de-sterilising sterile areas and spreading the virus (RCOG, 2020).
Your maternity team will do everything they can to make sure you can be present for the birth. However, if there is a particular safety concern, they may ask that you are not present in the operating theatre. If this is the case, the team should discuss this with you and explain their reasons unless it is an emergency (RCOG, 2020).
Where do I get information about coronavirus for birth partners?
The expert guidelines and understanding about COVID-19 is changing on a daily basis. To make sure you have the most reliable information, please check the RCOG website.
The guidance includes answers to a range of questions such as:
- Will I be able to have my birth partner with me if I am being induced?
- Will my birth partner be able to stay with me if I have a caesarean or assisted delivery that happens in an operating theatre?
- Will I be able to have my birth partner with me on the postnatal ward?
During this time, your maternity team will do all they can to provide information, guidance and support to you and your partner.
Page last reviewed: December 2021
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Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
The RCM has produced this helpful FAQ with advice and information on different aspects of pregnancy and birth for women and their families.
For more information and updates about birth and the coronavirus, see the RCOG website.
For more information about coronavirus in various languages see here.
NHS. (2020) Framework to assist NHS trusts to reintroduce access for partners, visitors and other supporters of pregnant women in English maternity services. Available at https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/publication/framework-to-assist-nhs-trusts-to-reintroduce-access-for-partners-visitors-and-other-supporters-of-pregnant-women-in-english-maternity-services/ (accessed 9 September 2020)
RCM. (2020) Advice for pregnant women. Available at: https://www.rcm.org.uk/advice-for-pregnant-women/ (accessed 20 April 2020)
RCOG. (2021) Coronavirus infection and pregnancy. Available at: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/ (accessed December 2021)