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Almost one in five women were forced to wear face masks while in labour last December, a charity has now uncovered.
As a result, the women recall having panic attacks, finding it hard to breathe and feeling nauseous during labour, on top of the pain they were already going through.
Pregnant Then Screwed surveyed 936 women to uncover the worrying results. They showed that 160 of those who went into labour were told to wear a face covering while giving birth.
This comes despite official UK guidance from the Royal College of Midwives, which has been in place since July 2020, as well as instructions by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Their guidance suggests that women shouldn't be asked to wear a face covering at any time during natural labour or when having a caesarean section, noting there is a risk of complications or harm to the mother should the mask be in place.
The BBC investigated the findings and found commentary from several mothers who hadn't known it as an option to take their masks off, and had therefore worn them for at least some of their labour - despite suffering from asthma, severe anxiety or other health conditions.
One of those women is Rosie, 39, from London. Rosie talked of how she felt like she was dying while giving birth to her third child, but still had to wear a mask throughout.
"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.
Rosie has a condition called Emetophobia, which means she's terrified of being sick.
"The mask smelt like vomit and it made me really nauseous, and when I feel like I'm going to be sick, I start to panic," she said.
"I was frightened that amongst everything else that was happening I was then going to be sick inside the mask."
Meanwhile, Natalie Titherington, 29, from Oldham, shares a similarly harrowing story of having to wear a mask during the birth of her child, in December - something which has left her so traumatised she still finds it triggering to put a mask on today.
She was told to wear a face mask while she was in advanced labour, and around 8cm dilated - despite having excruciating contractions at the time, too.
"I was gasping for air. I felt completely suffocated," she said. "I'm never going to be able to forget the feeling of not being able to breathe, and the fear and panic I felt while wearing a mask.
"Someone put the mask on me and I said 'you can't be serious', and she replied 'yes', and then I remember having a contraction.
"My body was already in a state of distress, and I tried to remove the mask at one point, but I was told I had to put it back on."
Natalie then underwent an emergency caesarean, where she also had to wear a mask throughout.
The experiences of these women have been echoed on Twitter, too.
"My wife gave birth to our twin boys in November 2020," commented one man, under the BBC report.
"She was asked to wear a mask throughout the labour process and I have pics and videos of her in a mask at the moment our boys were born. I strongly suspect that this is far more widespread than just a few isolated cases."
My wife gave birth to our twin boys in November 2020. She was asked to wear a mask throughout the labour process and I have pics and videos of her in a mask at the moment our boys were born. I strongly suspect that this is far more widespread than just a few isolated cases.
- Marc Yaffe (@marcyaffe) May 14, 2021
Made to wear my #facemask during #labour and #csection
Tried to take it off to kiss baby and wasn't allowed @BBCNews #jessops #sheffield #lockdownbaby pic.twitter.com/HNrYLsPOOX
- Claire Hannah (@clairehannah26) May 14, 2021
Responding to the BBC's report, Dr Mary Ross Davie, one of the employees at RCM, who helped write the guidance on face masks in delivery rooms, said she believes that any incidents of women wearing facemasks in labour may have been a "misunderstanding" on the part of some midwives.
Adding that it is "very rare" for expectant mothers to be told to wear masks, she explained: "All health professionals from the beginning of the pandemic were having to respond to such rapid guidance and change all of the time.
"Many on the clinical front line have found it difficult to keep up-to-date with the latest guidance.
"I think sometimes what has happened is that some health professionals may not have understood that when a woman is in labour, they should be exempt from wearing a mask."
In response to Natalie's harrowing account, The Royal Oldham NHS Hospital, where she gave birth, said that it "follows guidance from the RCM" adding that it wouldn't "expect a women to wear a face mask whilst giving birth".
Rosie's hospital made the same assurances, branding the incident a likely "one-off".
Now, both women and Pregnant Then Screwed are urging women to do their research so they don't end up in a similarly traumatic position.
You can read up on the work Pregnant Then Screwed do and support them here.
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