Post-birth fathers' ban may see 'maternity tourism' outside Tallinn, Tartu

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South Estonia Hospital in Võru. Source: South Estonia Hospital

Couples in Estonia's two main cities due to give birth may be looking further afield for the big day, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Monday, as hospitals in Tallinn and Tartu have barred fathers from being present in the post-natal ward due to COVID-19 risks.

Trained staff are also facilitating this "maternity tourism", the report said, as midwives from Tartu and Viljandi hospitals are transferring to the South Estonia Hospital (Lõuna-Eesti Haigla) in Võru.

Tallinn Hospitals and the Tartu University Hospital have opted to reinstate a ban on fathers staying on in hospital facilities following a birth, which was in place during the spring coronavirus wave.

However the South Estonia Hospital is now having to preempt potential overcrowding problems, with board member Arvi Vask telling AK that: "We were asked yesterday that those due to give birth coming from outside southeast Estonia could contact us by phone in advance, to ask if we currently have free space."

"So far, no calls have been made, since the decision was just made; it is widely known that hospitals generally accept all births if a delivery is imminent, and it is not necessary to grab the phone if they are already here."

Järvamaa Hospital in Paide has long taken on births in cases where the mother is from Rapla or Rakvere, but due mothers from Tallinn have also been contacting them, the hospital told AK.

While fathers in many larger hospitals may not be present post-birth, the regulations are generally more lenient than in spring, AK reported, when fathers were often not even permitted at the birth itself.

Now they can, if they have recently returned negative on a COVID-19 test, AK reported, though in the case of the Tartu University Hospital this does not extend to the post-natal period since a father or other partner/family member in attendance may have more contacts subsequent to the test and while they are on the hospital's premises, increasing the risk level.

Sirje Kõvermäe, senior midwife at Tartu University Hospital, said that its restrictions – the hospital is currently on level red hazard warning – have seen some understandably emotional responses from family members.

Kõvermäe said: "We understand this feedback. [The regulations] have caused people anxiety and stress, and families want to be together. It is not our goal to ban anything. But for now this cannot be avoided."

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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