How to cope with pregnancy in a pandemic – expert advice from a midwife and new mum
It's hard being pregnant in the middle of a coronavirus outbreak, says midwife and new mum Marie Louise (aka @The Modern Midwife). But – despite the worries and the new rules and restrictions – there are things you can do to help you find an easier way through
Pregnancy, for all its many joys, can sometimes feel unpredictable. And that fear of the unknown – of what's going to happen next and when – can make many mums-to-be anxious and nervous. Add in a global pandemic – with all its own fears and uncertainties – and it's not surprising that recent surveys of pregnant women, both in the UK¹ and the US², suggest that anxiety in pregnancy is greatly on the increase.
I know that navigating pregnancy in a pandemic can feel daunting and overwhelming: I've been there. I had my first baby in August 2020, so I've experienced first-hand how tough it can be when all the normal 'staging points' of pregnancy, including scans, midwife appointments, antenatal classes and going into hospital for labour and birth, have been changed or made subject to new, more restrictive rules and routines.
But I also know that, despite all these changes, expectant mums should still be able to access the right tools and information to feel prepared and supported throughout their pregnancy. Antenatal care is still there for us all – even if it looks a bit different right now. And, when the worry sets in, there are some key practical steps you can take to help you cope...
How to cope with the worry about catching Covid
Understandably, many pregnant women are concerned about the risk to their baby if they catch Covid-19. But it's important to reasssure yourself that most research indicates that pregnant women appear to be at no greater risk of severe illness from Covid-19 than non-pregnant women. If you are following government and NHS guidelines, then you're doing your best to look after yourself and your baby.
How to cope if your partner isn’t allowed to come to the scan
My partner was unable to attend my pregnancy scans. It was disappointing, to say the least, so I'm not going to pretend otherwise. But here's what might help:
- Double-check with your midwife or hospital exactly what your hospital's rules are. Despite what you might have read, not all hospitals are banning partners from scans and some hospitals that previously didn't allow partners to attend have now changed their policy. This situation is ever evolving. So don't just assume – check.
- Speak up if you think you have any extenuating circumstances that mean you need your partner at the scan with you. It is always good to communicate this. I am not promising that it will change your hospital's policy but it is important that you feel heard and that you raise any concerns specifically related to your pregnancy.
- If, in the absence of your partner, you would like a chaperone during your scan, request one. You have the right to ask for one but it's better to do this well ahead of time, so that the hospital can do their best to meet your needs.
- Check to see if your hospital will allow you to take video footage of your scan or make an audio recording of your baby's heartbeat.
- Consider booking an additional private scan. Many private scan clinics allow partners to attend. I am not recommending this but it is good to know your options.
- Try to relax once you're there. The scan experience may not be as you had imagined but seeing your little one is still very precious. Don't let any anger or disappointment about having to attend on your own make you miss out on the opportunity to enjoy it.
How to cope with less face-to-face midwife care
Antenatal care has changed quite a bit since the pandemic started. Some midwife appointments are now carried out on the telephone or in a video call, so there is less regular 'real-life' contact with healthcare professionals than there used to be – but that shouldn't mean you're having any fewer appointments or check-ups.
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In fact, the latest (October 2020) guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) for all professionals providing antenatal and postnatal services emphasises that all pregnant women should still be offered the recommended schedule of least 8 antenatal appointments – including at least 6 in-person appointments.
RCOG has also said the in-person appointments should be prioritised for women with high-risk pregnancies and for BAME women, who are now known to be at increased risk of complications should they get Covid-19.
Maternity care is an essential service and open access for pregnant women to day assessment and triage services will be maintained at all times
It is important to always call for advice if you have concerns about your own or your baby’s wellbeing, a midwife will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No question is ever a silly question. Rest assured: if you need to be seen, your midwife will always see you
How to cope if your partner isn’t allowed to be with you in labour
The first thing to know with this one is that your partner is allowed to be with you in labour – but not until you are in established labour, which is defined as being 4cm dilated and having regular contractions. So your partner can be with you when you're taken through to the delivery room and can very much be with you when your baby is born.
As with scans (above), it's worth checking with your midwife or hospital what exactly the current rules for your hospital are. Different hospitals and birth units will have their different rules and guidelines about this. For instance, some hospitals are now working with NHS England and other organisations to safely reintroduce measures that allow a partner to stay with a pregnant woman during an induction of labour.
To help get through early labour (the bit that takes you up to established labour):
- Stay at home in early labour, if you can – and if yours is a low-risk pregnancy. The labouring body progresses best in a home environment and a woman in early labour does not require clinical care, if all is well with both her and her baby. And, obviously, if you're at home, your partner can be with you.
- Remember that every woman’s experience of early labour is unique. Some women hardly have any sensations until they are in established labour; others feel pain and require support and or pain relief. If you do need support early on – and therefore need to leave home for hospital – you will still have support of trained maternity staff. We're there to help and support you.
- Know that being in established labour doesn't mean you're going to give birth immediately. This is a common misconception – and therefore a common source of worry that a partner won't make it to the birth room in time. Labour can progress very rapidly but, for many women, they will be in established labour for a good old while, especially if it's their first baby.
- Prepare your mind for birth. Understanding your body can help to remove fears, as you'll know what to expect and have an idea on how you'd like to manage your labour. Whether that be with breathing techniques or with pain relief, it doesn’t matter; what matters is that you understand your options and your body. That way, whether your partner is able to be with you or not, you will feel more confident and in control.
How to cope without antenatal classes
I'm a big fan of antenatal eduction – and Hypnobirthing in particular – because it helps you understand and trust your body and prepare for mind for the birth. And I know right now that many women feel as though they don't have enough information or understand their labour options, as antenatal classes have been cancelled. I have had hundreds of messages from women asking for support and more information.
Here is what you can do:
- Know that NHS trusts are now working towards providing antenatal education online – and ask your midwife what's happening in your area. Remember, too, that even if there are no classes, you can always speak to your midwife about any specific questions or concerns.
- Really focus on yourself and bond with your baby through breathing and relaxation techniques. (You can find lots of them online.) Practise these daily – even for 4 or 5 minutes – and you will reap the benefits. It's the little things that we do daily that make a difference to our overall mind management and wellbeing.
- Sign up to an online antenatal and postnatal course that you can watch in the comfort of your own home, at your own pace and in your own time. In my Modern Midwife online courses, I cover Hypnobirthing and give you the tools and techniques that can help prepare both your mind and body ahead of birth. I actually recorded it during the last lockdown when I was pregnant myself. I've made sure the course contains hours of information, downloadable factsheets, a birth-plan template, meditations – and much more.
About our expert Marie LouiseMarie Louise, also known as the Modern Midwife, has been an NHS midwife for a decade and has extensive antenatal and postnatal education experience. She provides evidence-based advice on pregnancy and birth on her Instagram and Facebook channels and has provided expert advice on BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour, Channel 5 and ITV. She is the author of The Modern Midwife’s Guide to Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond and has also released an online antenatal and postnatal course, designed to support expectant parents from the moment they find out they are pregnant.
Pics: Getty Images, The Modern Midwife
1. Most new and expectant mothers feel more anxious due to Covid, finds survey. Guardian. 1 January 2021.
2. Moms are not OK: Covid-19 and Maternal Mental Health. Davenport, MH. Front. Glob. Womens Health, 19 June 2020. https://doi.org/10.3389/fgwh.2020.00001
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