Hundreds of women were forced to wear face masks while giving birth despite this violating formal rules, a new study has found.
The report, carried out by a campaign group called Pregnant Then Screwed and shared with BBC News, discovered one in five expectant mothers were ordered to wear a face covering in labour during the Covid crisis.
Researchers, who polled 936 women who gave birth during December 2020, found 160 women said they had been asked to wear a face mask while giving birth to their child.
Guidance published by the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in July last year explicitly states women should not be asked to wear any type of face covering while giving birth as doing so can be harmful.
Rosie, who gave birth to her third child in December, said maternity staff told her to wear a face mask while she was in advanced labour.
The 39-year-old, who is from London, suffers from a condition characterised by a phobia of vomiting called Emetophobia so was suffering from panic attacks while wearing the face covering.
She yanked the mask off but was informed she must put it back on her face, she said.
“I felt like I was dying, because I was in so much pain,” Rosie told BBC News. “And while I’m pushing my baby out, I have this mask on my face, and the feeling of claustrophobia is just massive.”
She added: “The mask smelt like vomit and it made me really nauseous, and when I feel like I’m going to be sick, I start to panic.
“So in amongst the claustrophobia and the pain, I was frightened that I was going to be sick inside my mask. I was just so frightened and the whole thing was so scary.”
Dr Jo Mountfield, vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told The Independent they were “disappointed to hear reports” women were asked to wear face masks while giving birth.
The consultant obstetrician added: “The NHS guidance on wearing face coverings in hospital settings applies to staff, visitors and those attending out-patient appointments, not people admitted to hospital, including pregnant women in labour.
“Pregnant women admitted to hospital who test positive for or who are displaying symptoms of Covid-19, are asked to wear a face covering until they are moved into a private room.
“We understand how unsettling it must be for women giving birth during the pandemic and recognise some women and their families have had very difficult experiences. We would urge that future pandemic planning must ensure pregnant women are not unduly impacted by rapid changes to guidance.”
The Independent has reported on how women have been forced to give birth alone without a partner as well as have pregnancy plans changed at the last minute during the pandemic.
Maria Booker, of Birthrights, a leading maternity care charity, added: ”Birthrights asked the royal colleges to clarify at the beginning of June last year that women were not required to wear face masks in labour, which they did.
“Requiring a woman in labour to wear a mask in labour is inhumane and we urge all maternity services to ensure that this is no longer happening.”
It comes after a study this week found new mothers were twice as likely to suffer from postnatal depression in lockdown with women experiencing isolation and exhaustion.
A paper published by University College London noted a lack of social support triggered postnatal depression and called for the government to acknowledge the troubling repercussions lockdowns have had on new mothers when implementing future measures to tackle the public health crisis.
A poll by campaign group Make Birth Better, shared exclusively with The Independent last autumn, found almost half of pregnant women who were dependant on support from a specialist mental health midwife said that help had stopped.