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    BUNDLE OF JOY: Horsham’s Maddy and Cam Bruce welcomed their second son, Clay Parker Bruce, at Wimmera Base Hospital on June 6, during the coronavirus pandemic. Clay is a brother to Avery, 2. Wimmera Health Care Group’s maternity policies and restrictions are continuing to evolve in response to the pandemic. Picture: SARAH GOODE PHOTOGRAPHY

Midwife outlines birth rules in COVID-19 era

By SARAH MATTHEWS

A Wimmera midwife leader is looking to clear up uncertainty surrounding the role of support people during birth but has reminded the public ‘challenging and confronting’ rules are in place for a reason.

Wimmera Health Care Group nurse-midwife unit manager Michelle Coutts said a Department of Health and Human Services announcement late last week caused a great deal of anger, upset and confusion.

“Unfortunately, the DHHS stated they would only permit birthing women to have their partner or support person present during labour and birth and that the support person could only stay for two hours post the birth,” she said.



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“This directive was a significant deviation from what the DHHS had been advising us, and 24 hours later, the department retracted that directive.”

Mrs Coutts said current WHCG policy dictated a birthing woman could have one nominated support person with them during labour and birth, and that person could remain with the mother for the duration of their postnatal stay.

“However, if that person leaves the hospital then they will not be permitted to return onto Yandilla maternity ward,” she said.

“We cannot take the risk of that person leaving and potentially coming into contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive and compromising the rest of our women, patients and staff.

“We are doing our best to optimise the pregnancy and birth outcomes in the current climate while weighing up the risk of spreading COVID-19.

“At the moment, that risk is a very real one. The decisions around this are very, very hard. 

“We acknowledge we have some challenging and confronting rules at the moment but we just have to in order to keep our mothers, babies and staff safe.”

Mrs Coutts said many women had verbalised their main concern throughout the pandemic was not contracting COVID-19, but birthing in an environment that might not allow the experience they wanted.

She said it was well documented that having a constant support person throughout labour and birth provided positive health outcomes for mothers, partners and babies.
“For as long as we are permitted by the DHHS to allow support people into birth rooms we will,” Mrs Coutts said.

“However, we want everyone to be aware that further restrictions around this rule might be applied at any time depending on what happens. 

“I strongly encourage women to consider what this might mean for them.”

Best possible care

Since the start of March, 143 babies have been born at Wimmera Health Care Group. 

Mrs Coutts said staff were working hard to relieve mothers’ anxiety, concern and distress in the most challenging of times. 

 “If we believe it is safe to do so, and if women have sufficient supports, we would like to encourage women to leave hospital sooner rather than later after they birth – especially if the COVID-19 situation escalates rapidly in the Wimmera,” she said.

“We are prepared to the best of our ability to care for a woman and baby if they are positive for COVID. Such a case might fast become a reality given the escalation of cases in Victoria and on Monday, a baby positive for the virus was hospitalised in Melbourne. 

“COVID is well and truly in the Wimmera now and everybody has to accept this is our reality.”

Mrs Coutts said despite concerns over rising cases in the Wimmera, caregivers would not suggest labour-related interventions because of the pandemic. 

She said current relevant guidelines showed the pandemic did not create a need to ‘do anything differently or intervene in terms of labour and birth’.

She said, however, staff would take significant extra infection-control precautions if a pregnant or labouring woman had coronavirus.

Mrs Coutts said since March, maternity services had published individual restrictions regarding visitors and the presence of support people, all based on DHHS guidelines. 

“As COVID-19 now escalates again, we encourage women to contact Yandilla directly if they need clarification on our current restrictions and not rely on hearsay or something they have heard in the third person,” she said. 

“I cannot stress that enough. 

“The restrictions we need to put in place are evolving depending on the potential risk to our community and might change much more frequently in the future.”

Mrs Coutts said despite evolving policies and restrictions, staff remained focused on providing the best possible care.

“We know the experience of pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period will stay with our women and their babies forever,” she said.

“To fulfil that experience and deliver safe, woman-centred care that involves optimal communication and kindness is our top priority – COVID-19 or not.”

The entire July 29, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire July 29, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!