Living62 percent of European pregnant women gave birth unaccompanied...

62 percent of European pregnant women gave birth unaccompanied during the pandemic

Women who gave birth at the start of the pandemic did so amid great uncertainty. The protocols were not yet clear and as a precaution, many had to give birth alone , without their partner or a person they trusted to accompany them at such an important vital moment.

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg and Lund University conducted a study that was published in The Lancet and looks at how 21,027 women from 12 countries in the WHO European Region gave birth.

The births occurred between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, during 16 months of the pandemic . Among their conclusions, they found that 62 percent of women were not allowed to be accompanied during childbirth , 42 percent had difficulty getting adequate help during labor and 31 percent about breastfeeding.

Bad practices during the pandemic

Especially in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, inadequate protocols were applied in many settings for the management of pregnancy, childbirth, and the puerperium, and human rights violations were documented, such as the unnecessary separation of the baby from the mother.

Even among high-income countries in the European Region of the World Health Organization (WHO), multiple studies – including a systematic review – have documented a deterioration in key indicators, such as: reduced utilization of health services maternal and neonatal health, higher number of stillbirths, greater medicalization of care (more caesarean sections and induction of labor), less family participation, low support and adoption of breastfeeding, and increased maternal anxiety and stress.

Most gave birth alone

Forty measures of quality based on WHO standards were evaluated, divided into four categories: provision of care; care experience; availability of human and physical resources; and organizational changes due to COVID-19.

  • 62% were not allowed a companion of choice.
  • 42 percent had difficulty getting adequate help during labor.
  • 31.1% received inadequate support for breastfeeding.
  • 34.4% reported that healthcare workers did not always use personal protective equipment
  • 31.8% rated the number of health workers as “insufficient”.
  • Episiotomy was performed in 20.1% of spontaneous vaginal deliveries and uterine pressure in 41.2% of instrumental vaginal deliveries.
  • 23.9% of the women felt that they were not treated with dignity.
  • 12.5% said they suffered abuse and 2.4% made informal payments.

Great inequalities between European countries

Almost all women in Serbia and Romania (99% and 94%, respectively) and more than half of mothers in Italy, Norway, Germany or Sweden have declared that they gave birth ‘alone’ during the pandemic.

In Spain, the figure was much lower: 12.6% gave birth without a companion.

Croatia, Romania and Serbia showed the lowest levels of care, while the highest standards were recorded for women who gave birth in France, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden and Germany.

According to the researchers, the results of the study may help drive action to improve maternal and neonatal care in Europe. “The study shows that it is important to reduce inequalities and promote evidence-based, patient-centred care for all mothers and newborns in Europe, both while the pandemic continues and afterwards,” concludes Helen Elden.

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