The exclusion of partners from maternity hospital appointments was negatively affecting pregnant women's mental health, the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) has said, and the Taoiseach said in the Dáil he would continue to engage with the HSE about such restrictions.
The negative impacts of antenatal appointment restrictions were greatest for mothers who had previously suffered miscarriages and perinatal loss, the psychologists’ group said.
The professional body, which represents around 3,500 psychologists, said restrictions on partners attending scans and appointments had been “particularly difficult” on families during the pandemic.
The group said women who had experienced trauma or perinatal loss during a previous pregnancy were “disproportionately” affected by the restrictions.
The psychologists group said attending ante-natal scans or appointments alone was “extremely challenging,” and left women with “significant anxiety”. The restrictions also had a negative impact on partners “who are anxiously awaiting calls from the car park” of hospitals, the group said.
In a statement on Wednesday, the group said excluding partners until the woman entered the labour ward caused higher levels of anxiety and fear of childbirth.
“Birthing partners provide vital emotional and physical support for women in the hospital environment during scans and appointments, as well as during labour,” the group said.
Health officials have said while restrictions on partners attending maternity appointments have been eased, in some hospitals restrictions may remain in place, due to local public health assessments.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said in the Dáil he would continue to engage with the HSE about restrictions on partners attending maternity hospitals.
The Government has called a number of times for “national uniformity” in the application of guidelines to ease restrictions because of the success in “very substantially” suppressing the virus in hospitals and the progress with the vaccination programme.
Mr Martin told the Dáil that “even if PCR testing needs to be used, the capacity exists for that”, when it was revealed that a maternity clinic is offering antigen testing to the partners of pregnant women.
The Taoiseach said he was “very supportive of the need for women to be accompanied by their partners” and given the progress that had been made “it seems to me expectant mothers should be facilitated in this regard”.
Speaking as the issue was raised by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that before the Taoiseach announced easing of restrictions last week, pregnant women and their partners were led to believe full access for partners would be granted for all prenatal care, all scans and all appointments. But she said the announcement “fell well short” and pregnant women and their partners have been left “very concerned and disappointed”.
She called on Mr Martin “to correct that situation to ensure women can have their partner with them for all prenatal care, all scans and all appointments”
The PSI said perinatal mental health teams had recorded anecdotal increases in referrals related to anxiety among pregnant women during Covid-19.
“For a significant proportion, women’s anxiety has been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on their upcoming labour and birth,” the group said.
Anxiety was higher for women going through their first pregnancy, it said.
The group said following birth, parents also faced extra pressures due to Covid-19, such as dealing with a lack of social support and services, and fears about their infant contracting the virus.