47% of women reported negative experiences during childbirth in England during 2020

on 13 April 2022

A survey has found that 47% of women reported having negative experiences of childbirth during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Most of the respondents who said they had a negative experience said it was because of uncertainties around rapidly changing restrictions and poor communication from healthcare providers.

In contrast, 33% reported having a positive experience during childbirth and 20% said they had a “neutral” experience.

The research has been published in the BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth journal.

Qualitative data was collected through an online survey between July 2020 and March 2021 where 477 families responded. Parents living in England were invited to take part in the survey who had an infant aged between 0-6 months. This survey is part of a larger national study called ‘COVID-19 in the Context of Pregnancy, Infancy and Parenting’ (CoCoPIP).

Senior Author at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, Sarah Lloyd-Fox, said: “Many expectant mothers said that the constant changes to government guidance caused them heightened anxiety and distress, in particular because they didn’t know whether they could have a birth partner with them during labour and birth.

“Choice and control are so important in women’s childbirth experience – and lack of both during the pandemic restrictions in 2020 had an adverse effect on the experiences of many pregnant women in England.”

40% of respondents said they felt uncertain about whether their birthing partner would be allowed to attend the delivery of their baby. However, just 2.3% said they had no birthing partner present due to COVID-19 restrictions.

25% said COVID-19 restrictions changed their birth plan, such as the suspension of home births and birthing pools during early 2020 restrictions, making them feel like they had less feeling of control. Some women reported saying they had difficulties accessing pain relief and assistance.

Following the findings, researchers of the study recommend clear and consistent guidance should be implemented if future lockdowns and restrictions occur during public health crises. They also recommended that the guidance should include the allowance of choice of delivery methods and the availability of consistent support for women and their families for the duration of labour and birth.

The study ‘Giving birth in a pandemic: women’s birth experiences in England during COVID-19’ is open access and can be found here.