BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how maternity care services are provided worldwide. In an effort to contain the virus many providers have reduced the number of face-to-face visits for women. In addition, partner attendance is now prohibited in many circumstances in order to protect staff, and other service users, from potential infection.
METHODS: A qualitative study with 14 women was conducted using a grounded theory approach. Data were collected between April to June 2020 and in-depth interviews were conducted either in pregnancy or in the first 12 weeks after the birth.
RESULTS: Six categories emerged: loss of normality, navigating "new" maternity care systems, partners as bystanders, balancing information, uncertainty and unexpected benefits of pregnancy during the pandemic. Women described the challenges they faced with accessing information of the risk of COVID-19 in pregnancy and how to navigate the new hospital and community restrictions. For the most part women accepted many of the restrictions as they understood as being in place to keep them safe. They perceived themselves as vulnerable group despite apparent available evidence to the contrary. The loss of the partner as an advocate, particularly at the anomaly scan and in the neonatal intensive care, was a source of anxiety. Social media was the main source of information for many in place of traditional sources such as healthcare providers. Some unexpected benefits of restrictions included working from home which allowed women to manage normal pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue at home.
CONCLUSION: The pandemic caused anxiety for pregnant women. This is exacerbated by uncertainty about the effects of COVID-19 on pregnancy and unclear messaging about restrictions. Pregnancy has a significant temporal component and so maternity services need to respond to women’s needs for information and support rapidly and effectively, with more interactive and personalised communication to support them to cope with uncertainty. The birth partner is an important role as an advocate for women. Containment strategies for the pandemic should be developed with this in mind and attempt to view the family as a unit rather than the woman in isolation.