OBJECTIVES: To explore midwives' and maternity support workers' perceptions of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on maternity services and understand factors influencing respectful maternity care.
DESIGN: A qualitative study. Eleven semistructured interviews were conducted (on Zoom) and thematically analysed. Inductive themes were developed and compared with components of respectful maternity care.
SETTING: Maternity services in a diverse region of the United Kingdom.
PARTICIPANTS: Midwives and maternity support workers who worked during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
RESULTS: The findings offer insights into the experiences and challenges faced by midwives and maternity support workers during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK (March 2020-2021). Three core themes were interpreted that impacted respectful maternity care: (1) communication of care, (2) clinical care and (3) support for families. 1. Midwives and maternity support workers felt changing guidance impaired communication of accurate information. However, women attending appointments alone encouraged safeguarding disclosures. 2. Maternity staffing pressures worsened and delayed care provision. The health service's COVID-19 response was thought to have discouraged women's engagement with maternity care. 3. Social support for women was reduced and overstretched staff struggled to fill this role. The continuity of carer model of midwifery facilitated supportive care. COVID-19 restrictions separated families and were considered detrimental to parents' mental health and newborn bonding. Overall, comparison of interview quotes to components of respectful maternity care showed challenges during the early COVID-19 pandemic in upholding each of the 10 rights afforded to women and newborns.
CONCLUSIONS: Respectful maternity care was impacted through changes in communication, delivery of clinical care and restrictions on social support for women and their infants in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Future guidance for pandemic scenarios must make careful consideration of women's and newborns' rights to respectful maternity care.
Bibliographical note© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2022. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.
- Infant, Newborn
- Maternal Health Services
- Qualitative Research