Maternity restrictions exacerbating mental health difficulties, experts warn

ireland
Maternity Restrictions Exacerbating Mental Health Difficulties, Experts Warn Maternity Restrictions Exacerbating Mental Health Difficulties, Experts Warn
Restrictions at maternity hospitals have been the subject of criticism by politicians and campaigners in recent weeks. Photo: PA Archive/PA Images
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Dominic McGrath, PA

Maternity restrictions are adding to the mental health toll on pregnant women and their families, psychologists have warned.

The restrictions, introduced by maternity hospitals and maternity units to protect patients and staff from Covid-19, have been the subject of criticism by politicians and campaigners in recent weeks.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Psychological Society of Ireland said: “The ongoing maternity restrictions, in particular the exclusion of partners and support persons from maternity service, have been highlighted as a cause of increasing distress among pregnant women, fathers, partners, and families.

“While restrictions have been eased across some hospitals, they continue to remain across many hospitals in Ireland.”

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.

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Restrictions on maternity care have been criticised (Niall Carson/PA)

“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.

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