Nearly one in five pregnant women in the UK were forced to wear a face covering during labour, according to research by a charity, despite official health guidance saying they should not be asked to do so.
Women described feeling unable to breathe, having panic attacks or even being sick during labour because they were made to wear a face covering.
The research was carried out by the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, who surveyed 936 women who gave birth during December. It found that 160 of those who went into labour were made to wear a face covering. This goes against current joint UK guidance, published in July 2020 by the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
The guidance says that women should not be asked to wear a face covering of any kind during natural labour or during caesarean births because of the risk of harm and complications. Rosie, 39, from London, said she felt as if she was dying because she was in so much pain during advanced labour with her third child, born in December. Yet maternity staff instructed to keep on her face mask.
She told BBC News: “I was feeling claustrophobic and the mask was making me feel really nauseous and making me panic as well. I’m pushing my baby out, I have this mask on my face, and the feeling of claustrophobia is just massive.”
She said she couldn’t express herself because while struggling to breathe it was hard to talk and staff couldn’t see her whether or not her lips were moving. “I was frightened that amongst everything else that was happening I was then going to be sick inside the mask,” added Rosie, who has a condition called emetophobia, which is a fear of vomiting. At one point she ripped off the mask but was told to put it back on.
Read more: UK women forced to wear face masks during labour, charity finds