Skilled birth support professionals, also known as doulas, are facing increasing pressures from physical distancing restrictions – unable to provide the same level of support to pregnant women with complex socio-economic needs or complement the care provided by midwives, as seen prior to the pandemic.
“When we consider the gendered impacts of COVID-19, there has been a significant effect particularly for pregnant women. There are hospital policies which limit the number of people allowed to support a mother during birth - meaning they have to choose between their skilled birth support worker, such as a doula and their partner, family or friend,” Birth for Humankind CEO Ruth Dearnley said.
“There has been a slow, and inconsistent roll back of these policies – even when government guidance has allowed more support people to be present – which impacts on a woman’s rights, her birth experience, and also on the ability of doulas and midwives to do their jobs to the best of their ability.”
Claire Wyborn, a volunteer doula for Birth for Humankind, says that the impacts of COVID-19 have excluded and left pregnant women more vulnerable.
“COVID-19 has impacted a mother's right to support. As a significant and vulnerable group in our community, many have not been able to access the same level of support for their needs during pregnancy and birth,” Ms Wyborn said.
“This is a serious issue and amplified when we look at women who are experiencing complex needs, such as young mothers, women in abusive environments and those who do not speak English as a primary language. We do not yet know the full impact that these restrictions will play out in the lives of these women, and even women who may be in a more fortunate situation.
During this time, we must ensure that women, regardless of their situation, have access to information and support during pregnant and the birth of their baby. Making informed decisions, feeling as though they are being spoken to and treated with dignity and respect are vital to ensuring mothers and their babies are healthy.”
Ms Wyborn goes on to say that it’s not only doulas who are under pressure, but also the healthcare system and midwives: “Midwives do an amazing job under very challenging circumstances - even before COVID-19. Usually doulas provide emotional and physical support for pregnant women to lessen the strain on midwives and ensure that they are receiving appropriate support, particularly if they are experiencing social or economic disadvantage.
The necessary protocols to control COVID-19 is challenging the interactions midwives and doulas have with women giving birth. The issue is that distance and limited contact is simply not possible when it comes to birth and without it may prevent women from receiving appropriate support for their complex needs.
Birth is an incredible event in a woman’s life. Unfortunately though, we’re seeing more women marginalised during a time when they need extra attention and priority as they bring a new life into this world,” Ms Wyborn concluded.
Claire Wyborn has an extensive career as a doula, working closely with midwives and mothers. She is a professional doula with A Special Delivery, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and President of Doula Network Australia Incorporated.
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About Birth for Humankind
Birth for Humankind is a Melbourne-based not-for-profit that aims to achieve equitable maternal health and wellbeing for all by providing and advocating for respectful pregnancy, birth and early parenting support for women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.