NHS England is asking doctors and midwives to provide more checks and support to black, Asian and ethnic-minority (BAME) pregnant women because of their greater risk from coronavirus.
Black mums-to-be are eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19 than white pregnant women.
Pregnant Asian women are four times as likely to end up in hospital.
Maternity services remain open and mums-to-be are urged to keep in touch with their midwives to stay safe.
Coronavirus: Am I at risk during pregnancy?
Keturah King recently gave birth to a little boy at Homerton University Hospital in Hackney, north-east London.
She praised the support she received there but admitted she had concerns about being pregnant during the pandemic.
“When lockdown started it was just over-70s and vulnerable people on the at-risk list; then they added pregnant women and that’s when the worry kicked in,” she said.
“When it emerged black people are four times more likely to pass away it was really scary and you’re thinking, please don’t let it hit our doorstep.”
Pregnant women are no more likely to catch coronavirus than anyone else. The majority who do get it will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu-like symptoms.
As a precaution, pregnant women have been told to be particularly strict about avoiding social contact to reduce their risk of catching the disease.
‘Multitude’ of factors
Jazpreet Rana-Patel, 28, is 33 weeks pregnant. She said: “I’ve felt physically fine. I think definitely there have been periods of anxiety just going into the hospital, though.
“There are probably a multitude of factors contributing to the statistics and in the meantime being able to understand exactly why it’s occurring is so important for women and to be aware of the risks, especially when lockdown is easing.”
Research shows that just over half of the pregnant women admitted to hospital with Covid-19 are from a BAME background, even though they account for only a quarter of the births in England and Wales.
Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “Even before this pandemic, women from black, Asian or ethnic-minority backgrounds had poorer pregnancy outcomes, and Covid-19 has sharpened this inequality further.
“We support the steps the chief midwifery officer has asked maternity units to undertake and we are calling for these actions to be implemented swiftly. “
Even though some midwifery appointments may be carried out over the phone during the pandemic, that does not mean they are less important, the RCM says.
England’s most senior midwife, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, has written to all maternity units in the country calling on them to:
- ensure staff have a lower threshold to assess and admit pregnant women from a BAME background
- provide tailored support and advice to pregnant BAME women, including discussing the role of vitamin D supplements
Ms Dunkley-Bent said: “I want to make sure that every pregnant woman in England knows that the NHS is here for them – if you have any doubt whatsoever that something isn’t right with you or your baby, contact your midwife immediately.”
The Royal College of Midwives advises:
- if you have a cough, are breathless or feel hot and shivery, call your midwife
- attend all your appointments – some may be by phone or via video
- if you are worried about your baby’s movements or have blood in your pants, call your midwife immediately