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Giving birth in a pandemic: women's birth experiences in England during COVID-19.

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Glasgow, Kevin A 
Weiss, Staci M 
Khan, Zahra 
Austin, Topun 


BACKGROUND: Expectant parents worldwide have experienced changes in the way they give birth as a result of COVID-19, including restrictions relating to access to birthing units and the presence of birthing partners during the birth, and changes to birth plans. This paper reports the experiences of women in England. METHODS: Data were obtained from both closed- and open-ended responses collected as part of the national COVID in Context of Pregnancy, Infancy and Parenting (CoCoPIP) Study online survey (n = 477 families) between 15th July 2020 - 29th March 2021. Frequency data are presented alongside the results of a sentiment analysis; the open-ended data was analysed thematically. RESULTS: Two-thirds of expectant women reported giving birth via spontaneous vaginal delivery (SVD) (66.1%) and a third via caesarean section (CS) (32.6%) or 'other' (1.3%). Just under half (49.7%) of the CS were reported to have been elective/planned, with 47.7% being emergencies. A third (37.4%) of participants reported having no changes to their birth (as set out in their birthing plan), with a further 25% reporting COVID-related changes, and 37.4% reporting non-COVID related changes (e.g., changes as a result of birthing complications). One quarter of the sample reported COVID-related changes to their birth plan, including limited birthing options and reduced feelings of control; difficulties accessing pain-relief and assistance, and feelings of distress and anxiety. Under half of the respondents reported not knowing whether there could be someone present at the birth (44.8%), with 2.3% of respondents reporting no birthing partner being present due to COVID-related restrictions. Parental experiences of communication and advice provided by the hospital prior to delivery were mixed, with significant stress and anxiety being reported in relation to both the fluctuating guidance and lack of certainty regarding the presence of birthing partners at the birth. The sentiment analysis revealed that participant experiences of giving birth during the pandemic were predominately negative (46.9%) particularly in relation to the first national lockdown, with a smaller proportion of positive (33.2%) and neutral responses (19.9%). CONCLUSION: The proportion of parents reporting birthing interventions (i.e., emergency CS) was higher than previously reported, as were uncertainties related to the birth, and poor communication, leading to increased feelings of anxiety and high levels of negative emotions. The implications of these findings are discussed.



Birth experience, COVID-19, England, Pregnancy, Thematic analysis, COVID-19, Cesarean Section, Communicable Disease Control, England, Female, Humans, Pandemics, Parturition, Pregnancy

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BMC Pregnancy Childbirth

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
MRC (MR/T003057/1)
Funding source: This research was funded by a Medical Research Council Programme Grant MR/T003057/1 to MJ, and a UKRI Future Leaders fellowship (grant MR/S018425/1) to SLF. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the MRC or the UKRI. T.A. is supported by the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). The NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) is a partnership between Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Cambridge, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), TA is also supported by the NIHR Brain Injury MedTech Co-operative. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.