Rosie Brown, however, is one of the women who have been told to wear a mask during labour. But it did not agree with her at all.
The 39-year-old suffered from emetophobia, the fear of vomiting—which is why the smell of the mask made her feel nauseous, causing her to panic in what was already a difficult situation. 'It really made me sick,' says Rosie, who gave birth to her third child during the pandemic.
Masks during birth may lead to panic attacks
Because there were complications during labour, the British woman was afraid her son wouldn't make it. She remembers the mask being placed on her face as her contractions intensified.
'We have become so conditioned to wearing them, that I didn't question it,' the mother of three tells BBC. Then the feeling of tightness started to turn into a feeling of fear:
So in amongst the claustrophobia and the pain, I was panicking that I was going to vomit inside my mask. [...] I have this surgical mask on my face, and the feeling of claustrophobia was just massive. I was just so frightened
Research by the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, obtained by BBC, suggests that what happened to Rosie is hardly an isolated incident.
Not the only one
In the survey, which included 936 women who gave birth in December 2020, one in five women said they had to wear a mask during labour.
According to the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), pregnant women should not be coerced into wearing face coverings due to the risks that can occur during labour (natural and caesarean births).
Celia Venables from Pregnant Then Screwed explains that too many women have nevertheless had a mask forced on them during birth. Natalie Titherington from Oldham is one such woman. She recounts her traumatic experience:
I was gasping for air. I felt completely suffocated. 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.
Natalie explains that she had to wear a mask at the time, all the while she has regular and very painful contractions in labour. When she got it put on her, she couldn't believe it. She begged for leniency, but she did not get any:
Someone put the mask on me. 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.
Birth with a mask remains a traumatic experience
Some people have breathing difficulties even in everyday life when they wear a mask. Since this birth, Natalie can no longer wear a face covering because it triggers the memory of the traumatic experience she suffered through during her labour:
That feeling of suffocation and panic is something that still stays with me. It is something that flashes back as the worst fear I have been through.
Dr Mary Ross Davie believes it is 'very rare' for expectant mothers to be mistakenly asked to wear a mask during labour. The hospital where Rosie gave birth to her son is also certain that what happened to Rosie is an isolated incident.
Both Rosie and Natalie want to raise awareness among expectant mothers to look into the latest rules for births during the pandemic. Natalie feels traumatised by her experience to this day:
I can't imagine going through childbirth again. If the guidance was just followed during my labour, I wouldn't have faced the unnecessary stress and confusion I went through.