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Concerns about COVID-19 prompting more Alberta women to choose home births

Concerns about COVID-19 prompting more Alberta women to choose home births
WATCH: According to the College of Midwives of Alberta, our province already has the highest rate of out-of-hospital births in Canada – about 70 babies per month – delivered in a birth centre or at home. As Su-Ling Goh explains, with concerns about COVID-19, even more moms hope to give birth at home.

Alberta midwives say there has been a noticeable increase in requests for their services, especially for home births.

According to the College of Midwives of Alberta, the province already has the highest rate of out-of-hospital births in Canada. About 70 babies per month are delivered in a birth centre or at home.

READ MORE: ‘The unknowns’: Giving birth amidst the worldwide coronavirus pandemic

While it’s too early for official statistics, the registrar of the college believes that number has risen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The midwives that I’ve talked to are saying… they are seeing an increase in desire for home births,” Sharon Prusky told Global News.

“[Families are] really looking at ways that they can decrease the stress [of birth], decrease the hassle and stay safe.”

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After birthing her first daughter in hospital and her second at home, Katie Wojtowicz was planning to deliver her third child in hospital so she could have a doctor administer epidural anesthesia.

READ MORE: Home births vs. hospital births — What you need to know about both

Then she realized her husband might not be able to attend the birth.

“I decided that I would be more comfortable at home, especially knowing that regardless, [my husband] can be here with me,” said Wojtowicz, who was 40 weeks pregnant when she spoke with Global News.

“I didn’t want the chance that if he has a cough because of allergies, that I’m pushing this baby out by myself.”

Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health changed hospital visitor policies last month. Pregnant women are now limited to one support person in the delivery room and that person must not have symptoms of COVID-19.

N.S. couple calls on province to reverse home birth suspension
N.S. couple calls on province to reverse home birth suspension

Wojtowicz was also worried about the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in a hospital.

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Alberta Health assistant director of communications, Tom McMillan, emailed a statement to Global News.

“Hospitals remain a safe choice during the pandemic,” he said, in part. “There is currently no evidence that points to pregnant women being at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. There is also no evidence that the virus could negatively affect a developing child, or that COVID-19 can be transferred from mother to child during birth.”

“[Registered] midwives can continue to provide full scope care, including home births.

“If you are a midwifery client, your midwife will have an informed discussion with you regarding appropriate planning, including choice of birth place.”

READ MORE: Alberta to add more midwives, expand access to more rural, Indigenous mothers

Midwives are required to follow Alberta Health Services (AHS) guidelines for personal protective equipment (PPE), screening clients for health risks and minimizing in-person visits. AHS currently permits midwives to work in multiple sites in one day.

Alberta expands midwifery services
Alberta expands midwifery services

Some Alberta doulas say they have also seen an increase in demand for their services. Birth doulas provide unregulated, non-medical support for women before, during and after delivery.

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“When it comes to women birthing, it’s so important that they are birthing in an environment that they feel comfortable in,” said Sonya Duffee, a certified labour and postpartum doula trainer.

Duffee has several clients planning home births. Since the pandemic began, she has also supported a few couples during hospital births via video call.

“[I’ve been] helping dads to navigate how to use the hospital bed and those anticipated needs before [the pregnant partner] needs them,” said Duffee.

“One of the things that makes [doulas] great at what we do is adapting and adjusting to whatever is thrown our way.”

Wojtowicz gave birth to her son Felix at home on April 26, with the help of two midwives and her husband.

READ MORE: Calgary company now offers at-home pre and postnatal services for families

After six weeks of staying home to stay safe, she was glad she didn’t have to leave to deliver her baby boy.

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“I [didn’t] have to worry about people being around my baby that could possibly have [the virus] because I know how careful we’re being here at home,” said Wojtowicz.