As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the globe, experts have issued updated advice to pregnant women and their families, including cracking down on visitors to maternity and recommending early discharge from hospital.
In addition, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) has advised against attending face-to-face antenatal classes, a rite of passage for most expectant mums and dads. And with classes being cancelled around the country, it's left many parents-to-be anxious and searching for other alternatives.
My Obstetrician is now only doing critical appts and ultrasounds. All antenatal classes cancelled. I feel woefully unprepared to both protect and birth this baby over the next 20 weeks 😩😥— Anika Johnstone (@spokenly_) March 17, 2020
Expectant mum Fiona, who is due in May, tells Essential Baby that she was told that her classes at Hurstville Private Hospital which were scheduled for this weekend had been cancelled. "I feel less prepared and don't know what to expect especially as it was the hospital that I am going to be delivering in," she says, adding that they have been advised to seek other options via their obstetricians. "I thought I would be able to gain some insights into how the process is, and raise some questions that I have about what I'd like to do in my birth plan. Every hospital might have a different procedure so knowing what their procedure is would have given me some comfort."
While it might not be quite the same as changing baby dolls with a group of strangers, there are a number of online options available. Some enable parents to work though modules at their own pace, while others allow for more of a group feel.
Midwife and Gidget Foundation Ambassador Edwina Sharrock has been inundated with enquiries about Birth Beat, her online antenatal classes. "We've been online for nearly three years," she tells Essential Baby, adding that their initial focus was on rural and regional women. Over time, however, Ms Sharrock began to notice more and more mums-to-be were "busy city women" working up until 38 weeks.
"We're really conscious of being inclusive," Ms Sharrock says. "Single parents, same-sex parents or others who choose not to go to hospital classes for whatever reason."
But while their online courses have grown steadily since they launched, as COVID-19 has spread around the country she's seen an overwhelming need for online childbirth education. The course, which parents have access to for 12 months, covers everything from perinatal mental health, to sleeping, settling and breastfeeding. Birth Beat also offer a baby and child first aid course and access to a Facebook group where midwives answer any questions arising from the content.
Ms Sharrock and her team are currently supporting both public and private hospitals over the next few months as they seek to fill the gap in their antenatal services. "We're also working with corporate organisations around how to support staff," she says.
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Midwife Pam Ahrens of Beaches Birth Classes, Sydney, currently offers private prenatal classes for couples who don't want to attend hospital group sessions and working couples that are time poor. "The class takes two hours and includes a postnatal visit optional add-on," She tells Essential Baby. "I cover labour, pain relief options, birth, unexpected assisted birthing outcomes, breastfeeding, newborn care, wrapping, nappy changing and anything else that the individual couples require. My class is concise, informative and fun. The couples just love it!"
Due to the coronavirus Ms Ahrens is now offering Skype classes instead where required.
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Popular provider Calmbirth will also be delivering their courses online. "Our measures are in line with Australian Government advice in relation to self-isolation and health care sector workers," they wrote on Instagram. "Calmbirth courses will be conducted via the ZOOM platform which is a live and interactive platform.
"Calmbirth recognises that the COVID-19 virus is widespread and that your health and safety is paramount to us. But so is providing quality childbirth education at a time when anxiety levels may be peaking."
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Nadine Richardson of She Births, also made the decision to stop their face-to-face classes last Thursday. "We've had an online program for six years," she tells Essential Baby, adding that they've also revamped their weekend live course to be delivered over Zoom. "We had fourteen couples on the weekend," she says, noting that the feedback was all positive. "They felt incredibly supported." The online live format meant parents-to-be could ask questions and talk "in a dynamic way" while still having the group feel of face-to-face groups.
"It's the same scientifically verified course," Ms Richardson says."Same certified educators, same transformational conversations, just in a different location."
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