Will the coronavirus pandemic affect how I give birth?

We understand that this will be a stressful and anxious time if you are due to give birth soon. As always, your midwifery team will do everything they can to make sure you have a positive childbirth experience. Just be aware that your birth plan may have to change.

Last updated: 06/07/2020

Please be assured that your maternity services are working around the clock to support your choice about where and how you give birth. But due to staffing and other possible concerns, some of these choices may not always be possible. 

Just as at any other time, you may need to be flexible with your birth plan and be prepared to do things differently from what you wanted. As well as possible concerns around coronavirus, sometimes things don’t go according to plan during pregnancy or labour. For example, certain facilities may not be available on the day or there may be complications. Your maternity team should involve you (or your birth partner if necessary) in any decisions that need to be made on the day to make sure your baby is delivered safely.

We understand how anxious many women are at the moment, so we have put together the following FAQs to help you understand the current guidance. We will update this page as and when new information becomes available.

Can I still have a home birth?

home birth may still be an option in some areas if you don’t have coronavirus symptoms and are otherwise healthy. But if you have planned to have a home birth, it’s best to call your midwife or maternity unit to find out if this can go ahead.

This is because some maternity units have cancelled home births because they do not have enough staff to keep you safe. Also, it may not be possible to guarantee an ambulance for transfer to hospital if you needed it during a home birth.

We understand that not being able to give birth in the way you hoped to can be very upsetting. But, as always, your healthcare team need to do whatever it takes to make sure you and your baby are safe and well during labour.

Can my birth partner stay with me if I'm being induced?

If your partner does not have any virus symptoms, they can stay with you if you are being induced in a single room (e.g. on the labour ward). But if you are induced on a hospital ward they will not be allowed. This is to protect other pregnant women and their babies.

This does not mean that your partner cannot be with you during labour and birth. When you go into active labour, you will be moved to your own room and your partner can join you (unless they are unwell). 

Will I be able to have my birth partner with me during labour and birth?

Yes, you should be encouraged to have a birth partner with you during labour and birth, if this is what you want. Having a birth partner is known to make a significant difference to the safety and well-being of women in childbirth. However, some trusts may place restrictions on visitors and your partner may not be able to attend routine antenatal or postnatal appointments with you.

If your birth partner has symptoms of coronavirus, they will not be allowed to go into the maternity unit. This is to protect your health and the maternity staff supporting you.

If your birth partner is considered at risk from coronavirus, talk to your midwife about whether they are still able to stay with you.

Can I have a caesarean section and will my birth partner be able to stay with me?

Yes. C-sections are still being carried out in hospitals as required. Around 1 in 4 women in the UK has a caesarean birth and around 1 in 5 women in the UK has an instrumental birth (ventouse or forceps). Some of these types of birth may may also need to happen in the operating theatre in order to allow the maternity team to modify plans and do a caesarean birth if necessary.

Most caesareans and instrumental births in theatre are carried out under spinal or epidural anaesthetic, which means you’ll be awake, but the lower part of your body is numb and you cannot feel any pain. In this situation, everything will be done by the clinical staff to keep your birth partner with you.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, staff in the operating theatre will be wearing enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent the spread of infection, which will make it more difficult for them to communicate. To enable the clinicians to assist in the birth of your baby safely, it’s really important your birth partner follows the instructions from the maternity team carefully and quickly.

Occasionally, a general anaesthetic (where you’re put to sleep) may be used, particularly if your baby needs to be born urgently. During this type of caesarean birth, even under more usual circumstances, for safety reasons it is not possible for the birth partner to be present during the birth.

While the maternity team will do all they can to ensure that your birth partner is present for the birth, there will be some occasions when there is a need for an urgent emergency birth with epidural or spinal anaesthetic, and it will not be possible for your birth partner to be present. This is because, during an emergency, operating theatres are more high-risk environments in terms of potential spread of coronavirus to everyone who is present. 

If it is the case that your birth partner will not be able to be present during the birth, your maternity team will explain this to you and will do everything they can to ensure that your birth partner can see you and your baby as soon as possible after the birth. 

What about if I have suspected or confirmed coronavirus?

If you have suspected or confirmed coronavirus, you will not be able to have a home birth or give birth in a midwife-led unit. Instead, when you go into labour you will be advised to give birth in hospital on the delivery suite.

This will be the safest place for you and your baby. At the hospital, your baby will be monitored using continuous electronic fetal monitoring to check how they are throughout your labour. You will also have extra care from doctors, as well midwives.

Can I still give birth vaginally?

There is currently no evidence to suggest you cannot give birth vaginally if you have suspected or confirmed coronavirus. But if your breathing is very affected and your baby needs to be born urgently, a caesarean birth may be recommended.

It is not recommended that you give birth in a birthing pool in hospital if you have suspected or confirmed coronavirus. The virus can sometimes be found in faeces, so there is a possibility that it could contaminate the water and infect the baby. It may also be more difficult for healthcare staff to use suitable protection equipment during a water birth.

There is no evidence that women with suspected or confirmed coronavirus cannot have an epidural spinal block or gas and air. Find out more about your choices for pain relief in labour.

Will I be able to have my birth partner with me on the postnatal ward?

On 5 June, the NHS’s suspension of hospital visiting was lifted. This means that visiting is now subject to local discretion by trusts and other NHS bodies – please check with your maternity team for their policy on visitors to the postnatal wards. Restrictions on visitors to postnatal wards may remain in place to ensure compliance with social distancing measures and prevent the spread of coronavirus.

We understand it may be upsetting not having your birth partner with you on the postnatal ward after you have given birth, but these restrictions are in place to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus to you, your baby, the maternity staff and birth partners themselves. Please be reassured that during this time, midwifery, obstetric and support staff will do their best to support the needs for all women and the practical challenges of caring for newborns after birth. If visitors are permitted, it is important that they follow guidance in hospitals about wearing a face covering and handwashing.

Will my baby be tested for coronavirus?

If you have confirmed or suspected coronavirus when the baby is born, doctors who specialise in the care of newborn babies (neonatal doctors) will examine your baby and advise you about their care, including whether they need testing.

Will I be able to stay with my baby/give skin-to-skin if I have coronavirus?

Yes, as standard practice, you will be kept together after birth if your baby doesn’t require care in the neonatal unit.

Some reports from China suggest women with confirmed coronavirus have been advised to separate from their baby for 14 days. However, this may have negative effects on feeding and bonding. A discussion between you and the doctors will weigh up the risks and benefits and care will be individualised for each baby.

This guidance may change as more is known about the virus.

Will I be able to breastfeed my baby? 

There is currently no evidence that the virus can be carried in breast milk. The current advice is that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh potential risks of transmitting the virus. However, there is concern about the close contact between you and your baby, as you may share airborne droplets infected with the virus.

You can talk to your maternity team about the risks and benefits and any precautions that you can take.

When you or anyone else feeds your baby, the following precautions are recommended:

  • Wash your hands before touching your baby, breast pump or bottles
  • Try to avoid coughing or sneezing on your baby while feeding at the breast
  • Consider wearing a face mask while breastfeeding, if available
  • Follow recommendations for pump cleaning after each use
  • Consider asking someone who is well to feed your expressed breast milk to your baby.

If you choose to feed your baby with formula or expressed milk, it is recommend that you follow strict adherence to sterilisation guidelines. If you are expressing breast milk in hospital, a dedicated breast pump should be used.

After the birth, is there any increased risk to me or my baby?

There is no evidence that women who have recently had a baby and are otherwise well are at increased risk of contracting coronavirus or of becoming seriously unwell. A recently pregnant woman’s immune system is regarded as normal unless she has other forms of infection or underlying illness.

Do not put off seeking medical advice if you have concerns about your baby’s health during the pandemic. Seek medical advice if your baby has any symptoms you may have concerns about. Find out more about bringing your baby home during the pandemic.

This guidance may change as knowledge evolves.

We're here to support you

Although we've had to temporarily close our support line as our midwives have moved to homeworking, our Tommy's midwives are still here to support you.

We are working hard to provide the best support and information we can during a time of extra anxiety and worry for pregnant women and their families.

Watch out for updates and contact us on the following platforms:

If you have non-urgent questions, we have developed Tommy's Midwife, a skill for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa that answers many pregnancy queries, including some about COVID-19.

Read more about the Tommy's Midwife Alexa skill here

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