The ongoing pandemic has changed many things for people around the world – including how we give birth. Some hospitals have been tightening restrictions for visitors amid safety concerns around the coronavirus, which has led to a shift in some people’s birth plans – to midwifery care.

Laura Erickson, owner of Portland’s Alma Midwifery and certified professional midwife, said the phone is ringing steadily with calls, often from people late in their pregnancies.

They’re responding to reports that hospitals have been canceling C-sections, limiting guests and not allowing new mothers to have skin-on-skin contact with their newborns.

But midwives have had to make changes in response to the COVID-19 virus, as well.

“We really try to make the birth environment sweet,” with soft light, soft voices, and community support, Erickson said.

A laboring woman receives support from a student midwife. 

A laboring woman receives support from a student midwife. 

Photo provided by Alma Midwifery, Portland, Oregon.

Before the coronavirus, a delivering mother might invite her doula, her co-parent, and even her parents and older children to attend a birth. Now the numbers are more limited, with only a partner or doula allowed in the room, Erickson said.

Midwives have started wearing masks.

And in some cases, the additional stress of current events seems to affect the experiences of women giving birth, she said.

Midwives are used to dealing with short-term crises, and Erickson has navigated more than a few.

“I’ve done hurricane births, many blizzard births in Minnesota, thunderstorm births,” she said. “There was even a birth once where the barn started on fire, and we all had to go out to get the livestock out and then resume her labor.”

But usually a crisis starts, then ends, and then life moves on.

“This thing with this is that it’s so tiring. It just goes on and on and on, and there’s a lot of uncertainty for people too,” she said. “It’s such a clever virus.”

Erickson cautions that worries about changes in hospital procedures do not necessarily mean that turning to a midwife is the right approach for everyone.

“It’s a change of philosophy,” she said. Parents who might have expected an epidural and medication during childbirth are expected by midwives to approach delivery with a strong education in childbirth, and a willingness to go without that medication.

“If you are due in May or June and you are going to be changing from the idea of having an epidural to the idea of having a community birth, it just might be a little too short of  a time” to prepare for such a drastic change in approach, she said.

“Maybe just continue to go on as you planned, to give birth in a hospital,” she offered.

For due dates many months out, Erickson suggests that expecting parents do some homework now to see if a midwife-led community birth might be the right approach.