COVID-19 policy at Canberra Hospital forcing women like Nicole Dunbar to wear masks

Nicole Dunbar said she was forced to wear a mask while giving birth to daughter Ivy. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Nicole Dunbar said she was forced to wear a mask while giving birth to daughter Ivy. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

A Canberra woman was forced to wear a mask during labour and her husband nearly missed the birth of their third child because they had a mild cough.

Nicole Dunbar and partner Brendan Day were admitted to Canberra Hospital in the early hours of Friday, July 2.

Nearly two weeks later, the couple still think about what would have happened if Mr Day hadn't made a split-second decision to stay with his wife rather than get a COVID-19 test at the direction of staff.

"[He] says often he thinks about how close he was to missing his daughter's birth, he was so close to walking out of that room," Ms Dunbar said.

Within moments of having her first contraction on the bathroom floor of the suite, Ms Dunbar was in the throes of a painful drug and endorphin-free labour.

All the while, she said nurses and doctors were forcing her to wear a "restricting" face mask, because she had not returned a negative Covid test.

"It was horrible," Ms Dunbar said.

"In the back of your head you know you're supposed to be wearing this mask and you've got all these midwives and doctors telling you, you need to be wearing it ... but your body is telling you the opposite."

ACT Health said the mask-wearing protocols were designed to protect mothers, newborn babies and staff; and a mother "may be asked to wear a mask in the final stages of her labour and birth."

Nicole with her husband Brendan and newborn Ivy. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Nicole with her husband Brendan and newborn Ivy. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Ms Dunbar said she was pressured to keep the mask on for almost the entire 20-minute labour, despite staff wearing PPE gear.

"Every contraction I was having I was trying to take the mask off," she said.

"I said 'I just can't breathe, I can't breathe with this on' and at that point they sort of eased back on asking."

In the last few minutes of labour, while pushing, she ripped it off.

But immediately after their daughter Ivy was born, Ms Dunbar said she was told to put the mask back on and her husband left the suite for about three hours to get a Covid test.

"The last thing you want to do is to be separated from your partner after you give birth, you want to spend it together as a family and enjoy those moments," she said.

Ms Dunbar said during her 40-week appointment a week prior, staff knew she had a cough and was likely to give birth in the next week, but did not advise her of their COVID-19 policy.

"I just wish someone had told me that at one of my last appointments because they were aware that I had a mild cough," she said.

"That way there won't be any complications, you won't be required to wear a mask in labour or while waiting for your results and all this could be avoided."

ACT Health have said the COVID-19 mask policy applies to everyone, including expectant and labouring mothers.

"If a person has cold or flu-like signs or symptoms they are encouraged to undergo Covid testing and stay home at the onset of any symptoms, no matter how mild, whether they are pregnant and approaching their due date or not," a spokesperson said.

"If they require urgent care, they are asked to contact the birth suite for advice before attending the hospital."

Nicole and baby Ivy. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Nicole and baby Ivy. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

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This story Canberra mum forced to wear mask during labour first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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