Rise in home births linked to restrictions on hospital visits

Surge by 60% in deliveries at home in Dublin Mid-Leinster region, says midwifery officer

Holly Cairns TD:  “I know people in west Cork opting for home births because they were just not willing to go through childbirth alone.”  Photograph: Tom Honan

Holly Cairns TD: “I know people in west Cork opting for home births because they were just not willing to go through childbirth alone.” Photograph: Tom Honan

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Midwives and maternity support groups have reported a significant increase in the number of women opting for home births because of restrictions in some hospitals preventing partners attending for labour.

Denise Malone, designated midwifery officer for the Health Service Executive Cork and Kerry home birth service, said that nationally there had been a 30 per cent increase in home births which is “absolutely” linked to restrictions since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

Ms Malone said in the Dublin Mid-Leinster region home births surged by 60 per cent. In Cork and Kerry, there was a cultural tradition of home births with a well-organised support service and “we didn’t experience the same increase” but it was still between 15 per cent and 20 per cent, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Association for Improvement in Maternity Services (Aims) Ireland said there has been a “huge surge in home births” which is “most definitely linked to the restrictions”.

Master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin Prof Fergal Malone noted no change, however. “Our number of registrations and deliveries is exactly the same as this time last year and hasn’t budged up nor down,” he said.

Presence of partners

Prof Malone described their system as “pretty liberal. Partners are in for all deliveries unless the patient herself is Covid-positive or the partner is Covid-positive and then you have to follow public health advice and you’re meant to isolate”. He said partners were also allowed in for the 20-week scan.

“We’re quite happy to get patients and their partners in as much as feasibly possible and I fully expect that to get even better as the vaccination expands in the community.”

Social Democrats Cork South-West TD Holly Cairns said there was a “geographical lottery” regarding restrictions on partner visits.

The Government was putting a lot of focus on things like the return to sports “but there is no political will to address this”, she said. “It’s a little like the school shoes situation. They just weren’t paying attention to it and they still aren’t.”

Maternity restrictions

In the Dáil, she has highlighted maternity restrictions and called for new guidelines to replace those in operation since last September, given that most frontline healthcare workers had been vaccinated.

Ms Cairns said, “I know people in west Cork opting for home births because they were just not willing to go through childbirth alone.”

When Ms Cairns raised the issue with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on Thursday, he said everyone wanted to allow partners in. “However, bringing unvaccinated people into a hospital is a risk and there have been miscarriages as a result of Covid,” Mr Varadkar said.

Ms Cairns called for him to clarify where he got that information because “I can’t see any research or science or anything saying that.”

In December, the HSE designated partners as essential accompanying persons for the 20-week scan. “How do they automatically become unessential for the remainder of the scans and the majority of labour?” Ms Cairns asked, saying that in some hospitals partners were only allowed in “for so-called active labour”.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the policy on restrictions would be decided at local level.

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