Media Centre

Press releases

How women’s experience of birth during COVID-19 can help improve childbirth in future

Over the past 15 months we have avoided hugs and handshakes, stayed at home and quarantined, and experienced important life events alone. We have been reduced to family bubbles – keeping away from friends, acquaintances and even other family members.

Who could forget the poignant images of the Queen sitting alone and masked at Prince Philip’s funeral in May? Many of us eagerly await the return to “normal”, yet the disruption provides an important moment to reflect on the role of companionship at critical points in our lives, such as grieving or giving birth.

The pandemic made pregnancy a particularly stressful time for expectant mothers, and giving birth alone became both a fear and a reality. Often a birthing partner was only admitted during the actual labour stage. Support from family members, friends and “doulas” – paid birthing companions who provide practical and emotional support – was strictly curtailed. For some women this made giving birth a deeply traumatic experience, undergoing a painful experience without the reassurance of any companions.

Yet this is not the first time in history that women have had to undergo this intense experience without support. In Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, based on the Great Plague of 1665, the narrator laments that:

‘One of the most deplorable cases in all the present calamity was that of women with child, who, when they came to the hour of their sorrows, and their pains come upon them, could neither have help of one kind or another; neither midwife or neighbouring women to come near them.’

Of course there is no suggestion that women were left without appropriate medical care during the COVID pandemic, but they were certainly left without the modern equivalent of the “neighbouring women”. Despite being frequently called “gossips” these women performed a function much like a modern-day doula.

They too provided emotional and practical support to a woman in labour. The relationship was reciprocal, and women would act as each other’s gossip in turn, as detailed in the novel The Gossips’ Choice. Women often gave birth in a room filled with women including a midwife or handwoman, neighbours and female relatives.

Continues...

For the full article, co-written by Loughborough's Dr Sara Read visit the Conversation.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 21/122

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

Categories

Categories

ChildrenSociety

Related expert

Dr Sara Read

Resources

Contacts

Judy Wing

PR Manager

Telephone: 01509 228697

Media training resources for Loughborough University staff