Maintaining continuity of maternity support during COVID-19: Position Statement
Updated: 24 March 2020
Birth for Humankind fully supports the physical distancing measures and precautionary protocols that are being put in place to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
We also know there are multiple barriers preventing women experiencing social and economic disadvantage and social isolation from accessing the health system and getting the care and support they need. We seek to ensure that they are not further disadvantaged at this time.
Our priority is to maintain continuity of support for women experiencing disadvantage during pregnancy, birth and early parenting, whilst preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting our clients, volunteers, staff and wider community.
Restrictions on ‘visitors’ in hospital settings
Doulas are part of the professional support team available to women and families during pregnancy, birth and early parenting. They provide critical support, especially during times of heightened fear and anxiety, especially for women experiencing disadvantage. The presence of a doula is linked to improved maternal health indicators and birthing outcomes for women – and may reduce the amount of time the client needs to spend in hospital.
We believe it is critical to maintain a client-centred care approach that takes into consideration the unique needs of women experiencing disadvantage and complex care needs. Therefore, we believe extenuating circumstances and the individual needs of vulnerable clients must be taken into consideration and their doulas allowed to accompany them (and partner, if applicable).
We are continuing to reach out to our contacts in government and hospitals to enable this to happen.
We are continuing to deliver services, as close to normal as the circumstances allow.
Additional protocols – We have implemented stringent new protocols, in line with government advice. This includes but is not limited to all staff working from home until further notice; additional screening of all clients before appointments or allocating a new doula; required reporting and self-isolation for any staff member or doula if they meet the risk criteria, and prohibition of any meetings with clients, staff or other volunteers if they meet the risk criteria.
Doula support – Our doulas are still available to see clients and, whilst following social distancing procedures, are still available to meet clients face-to-face if the client and doula both feel comfortable doing so. They are also equipped to transfer meetings to online settings and are regularly available to check-in with clients over the phone.
Given current hospital visitor protocols, we expect to see a temporary reduction in the number of doulas being able to attend hospital appointments with clients – but they can still meet or contact them immediately before and after.
We always aim to have back-up doulas available to support clients in the case of unforeseen circumstances arising or requiring additional support needs. We are continuing to do this to mitigate the risk of doulas being unable to support clients.
If further restrictions on movement are put in place, we are preparing to temporarily transition all doula and client meetings to online settings.
This service is possible thanks to the tireless commitment of our volunteer doulas. This unprecedented situation is putting increased burden on everyone and we are aware that this may impact doula’s availability as they juggle other competing demands, including work, and family responsibilities. This may mean a temporary reduction in the number of new clients we can match with a doula. Whilst this is not yet the case, we are closely observing the situation and are exploring other ways we can maintain connection with clients and share resources.
Extended postnatal support – As per our pregnancy and birth doula support, extended postnatal support is still available face-to-face if the client and doula are comfortable doing so, and risk screening is negative and social distancing procedures are in place. It can also be delivered online or by phone. We envisage that there will an increased demand for extended postnatal support in the coming months after social distancing measures are relaxed, as a result of reduced social contact and support available to women from multiple services during this time. As always, we are continuing to recruit and train new doulas and raise revenue to ensure we have ample resources to meet client demand.
Training and induction – We have already transitioned our new doula induction course to an online setting and have inducted eleven new volunteer doulas in the last week. Our 18-week bicultural doula training is under way and we have already transitioned to an online learning environment. This has meant reorganising some content, so the more ‘hands-on’ training can be carried out at a later date once we are no longer enforcing social distancing measures.
Social connection for clients – We recognise that clients experiencing disadvantage and social isolation are at increased risk. As a way of maintaining connection and building community amongst clients we are launching Birth for Humankind client ‘chat groups’. These groups aim to connect pregnant women and new mums with shared experiences. We will encourage clients to access groups in their preferred language and /or in their local area to build community and reduce social isolation.
We understand the need for 'physical distancing', but are working hard to ensure it doesn't come at the expense of social connection. We welcome the opportunity to work with you to ensure continuity of support for women experiencing disadvantage during this difficult time.
If you have any questions, please contact us.