Kirsten Wall considers the support offered in hospital mid-pandemic for pregnant women who have suffered the previous loss of a baby.
9 to 15 October 2020 is National Baby Loss Awareness Week, which aims to provide an opportunity for bereaved parents, family and friends to share experiences, commemorate their babies' lives and campaign for better care and support.
In the past, baby loss has not been a subject that is widely discussed, and many women and bereaved families have felt that they must 'suffer in silence'.
One of the aims of baby loss awareness week is to end this harmful misconception and encourage people to share their stories and access the support that is available. Losing a baby will always be a devastating and traumatic experience, but it needn't be a lonely or isolating one.
Hospital visitor restrictions – check with your hospital
Restrictions on hospital visitors due to Covid-19 have however made obtaining medical care during pregnancy a potentially isolating experience. This is particularly acute for those women who have experienced baby loss previously, as returning to hospital can bring back troubling memories.
Even during a pandemic it is vital that expectant mothers receive the same level of care and support as they would in normal times, and this includes accessing emotional support from loved ones.
Since lockdown restrictions initially came into force, it has been possible for one birth partner to be there to support an expectant mother through labour.
Due to restrictions during the first phase of lockdown however, it was not possible for expectant mothers to be accompanied to outpatient appointments, or to receive visitors if they were admitted to hospital as an inpatient.
For those attending numerous appointments due to a risk of complications during their pregnancy or for those women who need to stay as an inpatient on an antenatal ward, having to go through such an experience alone can be a real strain on their mental health.
On 5 June the main lockdown restrictions were partially lifted, and as a result, the situation is now at the discretion of individual NHS Trusts and other healthcare bodies. On 8 September, the NHS, along with the relevant professional bodies, published a framework to encourage access for partners, visitors and other supporters of pregnant women in English maternity services.
This framework encourages local maternity services to adopt a 'stepwise approach' to allowing visitors, including taking account of local Covid-19 trends, staffing levels and the need to maintain social distancing in busy indoor spaces.
The intent is clear however – that providers of maternity care understand the value of being able to access a support network. This is never more important than when there are complications during pregnancy, or when a person has experienced baby loss in the past.
Guidance from the Royal College of Midwives stresses that it is important to recognise that restrictions on visiting, and support, have a disproportionate effect on some women.
The Guidance encourages maternity services to carry out individual risk assessments when considering whether to admit visitors, and so a blanket approach that does not take account of a person's particular characteristics or vulnerabilities is discouraged.
If you are worried about attending appointments alone, or are worried about being alone on an antenatal ward, you should make sure to check with your hospital beforehand and should let them know of any reasons why it would be particularly difficult for you to access antenatal care alone.
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