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Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer for NHS England

We hear from Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer for NHS England, who shares her advice for pregnant women and reassurance that maternity services are still here for you.

How have NHS maternity services adapted to the pandemic?

I know that many of you are feeling anxious about being pregnant and giving birth during this uncertain time. But I want to reassure you that midwives and maternity teams up and down the country are working hard to make sure maternity services continue to be personal and safe.

"We know that the NHS is under pressure because of coronavirus so many local teams are making adjustments to keep you and your baby safe."

Some appointments may now take place over the telephone or by video call. Some women may need to have their babies in a different place to where they had planned, and they may see staff wearing protective clothing.  

And, as anyone who has ever given birth or worked as a midwife will tell you, when a baby is ready to be born, they will not wait! Our midwives continue to be ready, waiting, willing and able. Since 30 January, I have seen first-hand how midwives have encouraged women who feel nervous about attending appointments to do so. 

Every maternity unit has amplified their efforts to engage with women above and beyond their usual practice. You can see an example in this video made by the midwives at the Royal Cornwall Hospital.

What do you think is important for pregnant women to know right now?

I want to reassure you that maternity services are completely separate to general NHS services in hospitals treating coronavirus patients.

"The risk of catching coronavirus from these patients is minimal, as well as from other pregnant women with coronavirus symptoms, who are cared for in another dedicated area in the maternity unit."

We also know that having a trusted birth partner present throughout labour is known to make a significant difference to the well-being of women in childbirth. At times like this, when coronavirus is heightening anxiety, that reassurance is more important than ever. 

While we support decisions to restrict access to birth partners who have, or are suspected of having coronavirus, in order to safeguard both the health of the woman and the maternity staff supporting her, NHS Trusts should continue to follow guidance allowing birth partners access to the maternity unit during labour and birth.

"Most importantly, I want you to know that the NHS is still here for you and has gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of you and your baby. Please, help us to help you."

What’s your advice for pregnant women who are worried about anything?

If you’re worried about your health or that of your baby, or you have a concern, no matter how minor, please contact your midwife just as you always would.

"And if you’re asked to come in for a planned or urgent check, it’s vital that you do so."

If you get coronavirus symptoms, they are likely to be only mild or moderate, such as a cough or a high temperature. The rate of contracting the virus is no higher than the general population, so please contact your midwife or maternity team who will advise you about what to do next.

If you have coronavirus symptoms when having your baby, then you will be cared for in a dedicated area in the maternity unit with a midwife. This is to keep you and everybody who uses or works in our services as safe as possible.

Through all of this, don’t forget - your midwife is always there to help you!

Further information

Keep up-to-date with all the latest coronavirus pregnancy and birth advice in the dedicated NHS section, which has links to helpful resources including a range of leaflets and an animation.

Read the NHS stay at home advice.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Midwives and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have produced information on coronavirus for pregnant women and their families

The Department of Health and Social Care website is being updated daily with guidance and what the government is doing about the virus.

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

Interactive, engaging and social, our live online antenatal course is a great way for you to meet other local parents, and get essential unbiased information and knowledge about pregnancy, birth and early days with your baby.

Click on the following links for guidance on self-isolation and social distancing in Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, French, Gujarati, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Urdu and Welsh.

For more information about coronavirus in various languages see here.

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Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer for NHS England

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