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Restrictions on maternity services exacerbate mental health difficulties, experts warn

The rules have been the subject of criticism by politicians and campaigners in recent weeks.

Image: Shutterstock

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY of Ireland (PSI) has expressed concern about the implications of continued maternity restrictions on parents and the wider family during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

There has been criticism in recent months of the different approaches taken by maternity hospitals, with some found not to be fully compliant with official guidance – having tighter restrictions on partner access during labour and at pre-natal appointments.

In a statement released today, the PSI said the ongoing maternity restrictions, in particular the exclusion of partners and support persons from maternity services, have been highlighted as a cause of increasing distress among pregnant women, fathers, partners and families. 

Drawing on international studies into the prevalence of depression and anxiety among pregnant and breastfeeding women, the society warned: “Preliminary research is indicating considerable risks to perinatal mental health due to the pandemic.

“It is important to consider that ongoing restrictions compound, and likely exacerbate, mental health difficulties elicited by the presence of a global pandemic.”

“It is important to consider that ongoing restrictions compound, and likely exacerbate, mental health difficulties elicited by the presence of a global pandemic.”

The society stressed the importance of birthing partners for pregnant women, saying: “Birthing partners provide vital emotional and physical support for women in the hospital environment during all appointments, and particularly labour.

“Continuous support during labour has been shown to improve outcomes for women and infants such as decreased birth interventions and shorter labour.”

The society said health officials need to balance the costs and benefits of ongoing restrictions.

It said those tasked with weighing up risk should “consider the current psychological risks continued maternity restrictions pose for families”.

The society added: “As outlined, the current restrictions likely increase the risk to parents’ and infants’ psychological wellbeing.”

Last week, the HSE said the majority of Irish hospitals would be fully compliant with maternity guidelines by the start of this week.

The National Maternity Hospital in Dublin announced last week that it would now allow unrestricted visits to inpatients by one nominated partner.

Last week, the Master of the Rotunda Maternity Hospital Professor Fergal Malone said restrictions at the facility could be eased if more patients and their partners were vaccinated.

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Professor Malone said that, for several months, the Rotunda has been significantly exceeding the HSE guidelines of 30 minutes of visiting time per day, by allowing patients up to six hours of visiting each day, and up to nine hours at weekends. 

However, he added that in certain parts of the hospital, particularly the old main building, which dates back to 1757, there is no ventilation and there isn’t enough space to allow large numbers of people to sit together safely.

On Thursday, HSE chief Paul Reid had warned that it will be “impossible” for some hospitals to fully comply with the guidelines.

He said that maternity hospitals in Ireland have “very real safety concerns”.

Reid said that the particular design and infrastructure of some maternity hospitals, including the Rotunda in Dublin, made it very difficult to fully comply with all HSE guidelines.

With reporting by Press Association

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