No evidence to support ban on partners for maternity appointments, says forum

Advocacy group says partners of women in early labour not allowed to accompany them

AIMS said   access to ante-natal classes and appointments has been restricted due to Covid-19. File photograph: Katie Collins/PA Wire

AIMS said access to ante-natal classes and appointments has been restricted due to Covid-19. File photograph: Katie Collins/PA Wire

 

For more than a year women have been forced to go to ante-natal visits alone and into hospital knowing they “might not be in labour enough to warrant the prize” of having their partners with them, despite an absence of evidence such restrictions are warranted, a maternity forum has been told.

Some of the significant difficulties mothers have experienced before, during and after giving birth in the middle of the current pandemic were highlighted at an open forum hosted on Sunday by the Association for the Improvements in the Maternity Services Ireland (AIMS).

The chairwoman of AIMS Krysia Lynch pointed to the “huge impact” Covid-19 has had on maternity services and mothers, with partners not allowed to accompany women to appointments and access to services such as ante-natal classes, public health nurses and lactation consultants cancelled, dramatically restricted and sometimes limited to phone calls.

She questioned the differing approaches of hospitals when it came to Covid-19 restrictions over the last 12 months and suggested that guidelines imposed by some hospitals were “non-evidence based and not based on any kind of assessments and benefits”.

She also noted the absence of ante-natal classes for much of the last year unless people were able to pay for it or found something free online.

“You are just about to have a baby, it can be overwhelming and a time of anxiety and in that time not having any extra support and knowing that if you go to the hospital too soon you will be without your partner’s support, without anyone who will advocate for you and be with you and encourage you and hold you,” Ms Lynch said.

She acknowledged the role played by midwives and doctors but noted that the emotional wellbeing of the women was “not their primary role, their primary role is clinical wellbeing”.

She said the restrictions meant women went into hospital with labour pains, knowing they “might not be in labour enough to warrant the prize of having your partner with you”.

“Partners are absolutely not visitors, they are an integral part of the team and it has been very difficult to get maternity care services to recognise that,” she said.

She also noted that pregnant women were being treated in the same manner as if they were seriously ill in acute care hospitals. “They are not the same as patients in acute hospitals,” she stressed.

The forum also heard from Jane Xavier, who spoke of her experience of pregnancy loss and how she had to fight to have her partner in the room after a screening appointment which had alerted medical staff to serious issues with her pregnancy at 11 weeks.

She said she was provided with inaccurate information about the medical interventions available to her. It was only when she highlighted legislation introduced in the wake of the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment that it was made clear to her that all necessary treatment options would be open to her in this country.

She said other migrant women may be more vulnerable “because they don’t have the necessary information”.

The forum also heard from Dr Liz O’Sullivan and Dr Aileen Kennedy from TU Dublin, who have conducted research on how the pandemic had impacted women who were breast feeding or who planned to breast feed new borns.

They said their findings pointed to increased challenges for women and an absence of support from the public health system as a direct result of the crisis.