Expectant parents oppose hospitals' childbirth coronavirus restrictions

Pelgulinn maternity hospital in Tallinn.
Pelgulinn maternity hospital in Tallinn. Source: Pelgulinna sünnitusmaja

Larger hospitals in Estonia have decided to restrict the admission of fathers or other supporting individuals during childbirth in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a move which has been met with criticism.

Soon-to-be parents Kadi and Eduard Kullmann are expecting their second child, but told ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" that they had been stopped by a security guard while going to a hospital for a pre-natal checkup, though Eduard was allowed in after questioning.

"I read about [the barring of fathers and others] for the first time last week, and it brought a tear to the eye. You feel safe and secure and you know you can count on somebody, that you're not alone there, as you never know when a nurse has to go away from you," said Kadi Kullmann.

In several county hospitals, including the South Estonian Hospital (Lõuna-Eesti haigla), it is currently the case that one support person can come, but with certain restrictions, including that if they leave the building, they cannot then return.

"They can be at childbirth, they can be a support person, and they can stay in the family ward with the obstetrician, but they can't leave the department. If they do, they won't be allowed back again," said Agnes Aart, chief of treatment at the South Estonia Hospital.

However, major maternity hospitals in Estonia have reported that fathers and other support persons – who may give assistance to hosiptal staff in certain aspects – are no longer allowed at childbirth at all, and women are expected to give birth alone.

Social media "influencers" are planning to oppose the rigidity of the measures through March and April and have sent joint appeal to hospitals and health authorities, after which they await further clarification of the background to the decision and stress the importance of the role of the support person during childbirth.

The support person is a great help to the hospital staff, sharing their work. They can still currently take over the support and monitoring of the midwife. This is how have been prepared for childbirth and we hope that a reasonable solution can still be found," said mom-to-be Getter Raidma

A spokesperson for one of Tallinn's larger hospitals said that the move was inevitable given the spread of coronavirus.

"We are very sorry that our decision has caused so much anxiety and sadness. We cannot allow promise the self-same midwife from start to finish [of the entire birth process], but we can allow for hospital delivery continue to be risk-free. However, to keep that way during a pandemic, we can't temporarily allow fathers to come along to the birth at the moment," said Piret Veerus, head of the Women's Clinic at West Tallinn Central Hospital (Lääne-Tallinna keskhaigla).

Veerus noted that hospitals are expected to reach a consensus on the issue in the coming days. She added that the restriction on family members and others at births would continue as long as the emergency situation in Estonia was in place.

New 24/7 service replaces face-to-face counselling

The emergency measures also affect pre-natal counseling sessions, which now can no longer be conducted face-to-face.

From Tuesday, however, expecting families can receive free volunteer advice from the Valuing Life Foundation (Väärtustades Elu) via phone and Skype to make up for the viral risk with close contact in hospitals.

The new line is 8002008. More information is here (link in Estonian).

The service is available 24/7, requires no referral, and is available in English as well as Estonian and Russian, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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