The vitally important role of a birth partner to support and advocate for labouring women at their most vulnerable cannot be underestimated. The NCT website confirms:
"Having a supportive birthing partner can make a huge difference to a woman’s birth experience. It can help give them a sense of control and comfort."
This sense of control and comfort could be the difference between a straightforward birth and a problematic one involving potential injuries to mother and/or baby.
A woman who becomes overly agitated during her labour due to feeling frightened and alone in the absence of her trusted birth partner is likely to release too much adrenaline in place of the ideal birth hormone oxytocin. This slows down labour, which can lead to critical delays and the need for obstetric intervention, both of which have significant potential to cause harm or injury.
Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many NHS Trusts felt compelled to introduce restrictive policies preventing birth partners from accompanying mothers into maternity wards.
The human rights charity Birthrights (among others) campaigned heavily against such policies, arguing that birth partners should not be treated in the same way as ordinary visitors given the unique role they play in supporting labouring women. The law states any restrictions placed upon the presence of birth partners during labour must be reasonable and proportionate to avoid breaching the right to a private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Many hospital Trusts have since altered these blanket policies in the face of challenges submitted via Birthrights, including Northwick Park, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells and Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board.
Article written by Lucy Hopwood.
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