Bringing a baby into the world is a daunting task at the best of times – and the COVID-19 pandemic has not made it any easier for parents-to-be.
However, Australia’s private hospitals have come up with safe solutions after being forced to suspend midwives’ regular classes due to social distancing restrictions.
Cairns Private Hospital is helping to ease the worries of expectant mums by offering online antenatal classes via Ramsay Health Care’s virtual platform.
Sydney Adventist Hospital, meanwhile, has partnered with Australia's leading provider of online antenatal and early parenting education to offer more than six hours of free virtual tuition.
In Victoria, the Epworth group has converted its most popular antenatal class into a series of videos to watch at home plus an interactive question and answer session with a senior midwife.
“Most of these women are first-time mums and are in the final stages of their pregnancy, so it’s a really important time,” said Cairns Private Hospital’s Nurse Unit Manager, Jayne Dennett.
“Many of them are extremely anxious, not just about their upcoming birth but also about the risks of COVID-19 and we want to be there for them so they can feel confident about having their babies.”
Ramsay, Australia’s largest private hospital operator, is offering a range of maternity options after transforming its antenatal program in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Its online childbirth classes, led by experienced midwives via a secure platform, will cover pregnancy, labour and birth, parenting, breastfeeding, and more. Ramsay is also offering telehealth consultations called “Know My Midwife”, which are bulk-billed through Medicare.
“Access to reliable information to improve knowledge and thus improve anxiety and allow empowerment is what antenatal classes are all about,” said Cairns Private Hospital obstetrician Dr Natalie Kiesey-Calding.
“Add in a pandemic and this just magnifies everything, so it was vital that we found a new way to connect with expectant families to continue this educational support.”
Sydney Adventist Hospital, known as the San, also aims to keep pregnant women connected with its Nourish Baby Learning Hub.
Available to pre-booked maternity patients, it covers topics including choices in childbirth, pain-relief options, caring for newborns and breastfeeding tips, via a range of on-demand written and video resources.
"It used to be said that it takes a village to raise a child, and now we no longer live in villages the raising of children is in some ways more difficult because people feel isolated,” San obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Andrew Booker said.
“I think in some ways these online education classes enable us to be connected when we are in separate spaces,” he added.
San midwife and lactation specialist Alison Edgecombe said the Nourish Baby program complements in-person classes usually offered during pregnancy and while staying on the maternity ward at New South Wales’ largest private hospital.
“It empowers people to make informed decisions. There is a lot of information out there and you have people telling you different things.
“That’s why doing some form of antenatal education is helpful to sort through what might be important to women and their partners. They can be correctly informed and prepared, both physically and emotionally," she said.
In addition to its online videos, Epworth has started an ‘Iso-Mums’ group on its Facebook platform, while its ‘Mobile Midwife’ initiative has seen a spike in traffic since the pandemic started.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive feedback about our virtual classes for new parents,” said Maree Mendola, Epworth Freemasons’ Associate Director of Clinical and Maternity Services.
“Understandably, many women were concerned about having a baby during the middle of a global pandemic but we’ve been able to allay those fears by providing trusted, quality information and interactive Zoom Q&A sessions to answer all of their questions.”
Such knowledge is vital in coping with fear of the unknown, said the San’s Dr John Keogh – an obstetrician of 30 years’ experience who has delivered over 12,500 babies.
“Walking into the birthing suite with confidence after having done the antenatal education is 80 percent of the battle won," he said.