“I gasped for air. I felt completely suffocated, ”said Natalie Titherington, 29, of Oldham, who was forced to wear a face mask when she gave birth to her daughter last December.
“I will never be able to forget the feeling of not being able to breathe and the fear and panic I felt while wearing a mask.”
According to the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women should not wear face covering during childbirth – be it a vaginal delivery or a cesarean delivery – as there is a risk of damage and complications.
However, a new report from BBC News and the Pregnant Then Screwed charity found that hundreds of women in the UK were forced to wear face masks when giving birth last year.
Out of 936 women surveyed who gave birth in December 2020, 160 women said they had to wear a face mask during labor.
Natalie Titherington with her daughter, who was born in December 2020.
Titherington says that during her advanced labor she had to wear a face mask, was about three inches expanded, and had regular and very painful contractions.
“Somebody put the mask on me and I said ‘you can’t be serious’ and she said ‘yes’ and then I remember a contraction,” she remembers. “My body was already in a state of distress and I tried to remove the mask at one point, but was told to put it back on.”
She needed an emergency caesarean section and had to wear the mask throughout the operation.
Titherington has three children and this was her seventh pregnancy, but she tells HuffPost UK that giving birth to her youngest daughter was the most terrifying experience of her life. She has not been able to wear a face mask since then because even the sight of it triggers her.
“Seeing a mask reminds me of the work and suffocation I’ve endured,” says Titherington, now relieved of the need to wear a mask. “The panic is something that still stays with me, it is something that flashes back as the worst fear I’ve been through.”
The guidelines on face masks for labor were first published in July 2020, but a senior director of the professional midwife told BBC News that some health professionals may not understand the guidelines, which means that some pregnant women may be unnecessarily prompted during labor To wear face masks.
“All health professionals from the start of the pandemic had to constantly respond to this rapid guidance and change,” said Dr. Mary Ross Davie, Director of Professional Midwives at the Royal College of Midwives.
“It has been really difficult for many on the clinical front to keep up with the latest guidelines.
“I think sometimes it has happened that some health professionals may not have understood that someone who is going into labor should be exempt from wearing a mask.”
Rosie Brown, 39, of London, gave birth to her third child in December.
She says she was told by maternity staff to wear a face mask while she was in advanced work. She has a disease called emetophobia, which is a phobia of vomiting. She had panic attacks while wearing the mask. She tore it off at some point, but was told to put it back on.
“I felt like I was dying because I was in so much pain,” she says. “The mask smelled like vomit and I got really sick. When I feel like I’m getting sick, I panic. Amid the claustrophobia and pain, I was afraid that I would get sick in my mask.
“I was just so scared and the whole thing was so scary.”
Rosie Brown, who gave birth to her third child in September.
Celia Venables, communications director for Pregnant Then Screwed, said the charity spoke to a number of women who said wearing a mask added complications and distress to them during labor.
“We had one woman who was vomiting, we had others who couldn’t breathe,” she said. “These are things that can be avoided, simply by following the directions.”
HuffPost UK has reached out to the Department of Health and Social Affairs regarding the report and will update this article with each response we receive.