French hospitals told they can't force women to wear masks during childbirth

·2-min read

The French government has clarified that pregnant women must not be obliged to wear protective masks during childbirth, following a flood of complaints from mothers who said they were forced to do so by hospital staff.

Using the hashtag #StopAccouchementMasqué (#StopMaskedChildbirth), more than a thousand women have taken to social media since September to recount the trauma they endured while being made to breathe through a mask during the labour and delivery of their babies.

A report published in July by Stop VOG, a collective working to end obstetric and gynaecological violence, found that 46 percent of birthing mothers were required to wear masks – both for their own protection and that of midwives and doctors – during the first wave of the epidemic.

While some maternity wards insisted on the masks, others were less strict – with the discrepancy generating much interest in the media.

To end the uncertainty, three French ministers on Monday released a joint statement reminding health professionals that “giving birth must remain a privileged moment” – and that while wearing a protective mask in the presence of caregivers was “desirable”, it cannot be made compulsory.

The document was signed by the Minister for Health, Olivier Véran, Secretary of State for Children and Families, Adrien Taquet, and Minister Delegate for Equality between Women and Men, Elisabeth Moreno.

In response, Stop VOG called on the government to provide maternity wards with equipment such as “FFP2 masks, goggles, gowns” that would guarantee the protection of caregivers.

“For the past eight months…under-equipped medical teams have been pushing women to keep their masks on despite the consequences: fever, increased interventions, vomiting, breathing difficulties, traumatic awakening, limited communication, discomfort,” the collective said in a press release.

“Informed women will continue to peel off their masks, but how will others, faced with under-equipped midwives, see their choices respected?”