The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has moved to allay pregnant women's fears they could be forced to give birth without their partner by their side.
The concerns stemmed from moves by some New York hospitals to ban partners from delivery rooms, but RANZCOG has released a statement saying there was "no current plan" for this to occur in Australia.
"The College supports World Health Organisation recommendations that a chosen support person should be able to accompany a woman giving birth," the statement reads. "There is no current plan to change this advice."
RANZCOG president Dr Vijay Roach described pregnancy and childbirth as "an important time in a woman's life."
"We must work together to safeguard women's mental health, experience during birth and facilitate and support parents' connection with their newborn babies," he said.
RANZCOG advises that apart from necessary screening procedure and strict hygiene protocols, expectant mums should expect their experience of pregnancy and birth to be "minimally affected".
The college notes that women should attend hospital with one support person only, who will also be screened for risk of coronavirus infection. In addition, visitors should be restricted to one person per day. Early discharge should also be considered where appropriate with community support in place.
"It is most important at this time that women continue to access, and receive, antenatal, birthing and postnatal care from appropriately trained health professionals," Dr Roach said.
"The safest place to give birth is in a hospital, or birthing unit, where highly trained midwives, and doctors, can care for you, and facilities are available if you become unwell."
According to the Australian College of Midwives, there's strong evidence showing that the safety and wellbeing of women is improved when they are supported by a trusted birth partner throughout labour, in addition to their midwife or obstetrician. "All women have the right to a safe and positive childbirth experience," the ACM said in a statement.
"As trusted health professionals we must not lose sight of this fundamental requirement for women, or we are at risk of adding to the anxiety that women may be experiencing during this health crisis."
The ACM also notes that birth partners who, have or are suspected of having, coronavirus are being restricted from accessing health services (and should be self-isolating)."These are safe and responsible measures to protect the community," the college notes. "In such cases women should be supported to choose an alternative birth support companion such as another (healthy and well) family member or friend."
Advice from both RANZCOG and the ACM, aligns with the World Health Organisation's (WHO) guidelines for pregnancy and childbirth.
"All pregnant women, including those with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections, have the right to high quality care before, during and after childbirth," The WHO notes. "This includes antenatal, newborn, postnatal, intrapartum and mental health care."
According to the WHO, a safe and positive childbirth experience includes:
- Being treated with respect and dignity;
- Having a companion of choice present during delivery;
- Clear communication by maternity staff;
- Appropriate pain relief strategies:
- Mobility in labour where possible, and birth position of choice.
It comes as two private hospitals in New York, NewYork-Presbyterian and Mount Sinai, banned both birth partners and visitors amid the pandemic.
#COVID19 Update: March 22, 2020— NewYork-Presbyterian (@nyphospital) March 22, 2020
The new changes to our visitor policy will go into effect on Monday, March 23, 2020 at 7am. To learn more, please visit: https://t.co/WWAk38Ch15 pic.twitter.com/6cmObRKCaD
I hope hospitals will reconsider this policy. I absolutely understand why a room full of people right now is not ideal during a birth or why support partners should be screened. But giving birth alone with stressed, under-resourced medical professionals is scary.— Cate Eland (@RomancingNope) March 24, 2020
The bans prompted an outcry from parents and advocates before being overturned with an executive order from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, earlier this week.
Women will not be forced to be alone when they are giving birth. Not in New York. Not now, not ever.— Melissa DeRosa (@melissadderosa) March 28, 2020
EO coming today -- will apply to public and private hospitals. https://t.co/l3Qm4jBgeG
The order permits the "attendance of one support person who does not have a fever at the time of labor/delivery to be present as a support person for a patient who is giving birth."
If you're worried about your emotional and mental wellbeing, please find all the supports and services available to you here.
PANDA National Helpline (Mon to Fri, 9am - 7.30pm AEST/AEDT)