Protecting human rights in childbirth

Registered Charity Number 1151152

Partner restrictions: Information for women and birthing people

Being in labour and giving birth can be life-changing and involve a range of strong emotions, so it’s extremely important that you feel prepared.

When giving birth, having a supportive birth partner alongside you can make a huge difference, giving you a sense of control, comfort and advocacy, which in turn reduces your stress during a lifechanging event.

Your rights

Those caring for you should respect your choice of birth partner or partners during your labour and postnatally. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects every person’s right to make choices about their private life and this includes choices about “all the circumstances of birth” including birth partners. (See our full factsheet on birth partners below, as well as this one on Human Rights in Maternity Care.)

You should be given proper opportunities to explain who you wish to be with you during your labour. Your choices should be carefully considered by midwives and other medical staff and should not be restricted or refused unless there is a justification – a good, evidence-based, reason – to do so in your individual case. For a hospital’s reason to restrict choice of birth partner to be justified, there must be a legitimate need being met by the restriction, and that restriction must be a proportionate way to meet that need. An example of a proportionate justification might be if a birth partner has been violent towards health professionals in the recent past.

If you have difficulty understanding spoken English or speaking it yourself, NHS England sets out how Trusts should obtain language and communication support. This could include hiring a professional interpreter or translating written material for you. Everyone needs to be able to communicate fully and understand what consent they are being asked for and what restrictions they are facing.  This is called ‘reasonable adjustment’. The right to reasonable adjustment is set out in the Equality Act 2010. This does not mean that everyone should get exactly the same care. Under the law, treating someone equally can mean that they should be given extra support in order to put them in the same position as other people who are having a baby. This might mean them being provided with: an interpreter; large print information materials; lighting that enables someone to lip read; an advocate to support understanding and communication, or whatever else might be needed for an individual.

The starting point for any hospital or trust should always be to uphold your human rights. You have the right to choose who you want to give birth with. Your hospital or trust should always try to find ways to support your chosen birth partner to be with you during and after birth.

Hospitals sometimes have their own internal rules (a policy) about whether your birth partner can stay with you after the birth, and for how long. Depending on the circumstances and the size of the maternity unit, there can sometimes be rational reasons to limit how many extra family members or additional friends there are on postnatal wards at any one time, for example, if the ward is small. However, healthcare professionals should apply their rules flexibly and sensitively and always be open to considering exceptions.

Maternity professionals should give you time to explain if you have specific reasons for wanting your birth partner to stay longer. These could include that you had, or are planning, a caesarean birth; you have experienced a previous birth trauma, you are anxious about the care you will receive or do you not feel safe accessing maternity care alone; you are living with a disability or significant health impairment; if your baby is ill; you have English as an additional language; or because you are expecting/ have given birth to multiple babies. 

Maternity professionals should listen carefully to your reasons and allow your birth partner to stay unless there is a good, current evidence-based, reason not to. They could consider whether there are ways to allow your partner to stay even if this would be an exception to the usual policy, for example, by providing a room off the ward. If you need your partner to stay as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ because you have a disability or long-term health condition, you should raise this with your midwife during your pregnancy and plan the support you need.

Birth partners factsheet

Download our full Birth Partners factsheet to inform and equip you fully on your rights.

Birth Partners factsheet

What to do if you are being affected by birth partner restrictions

If you are being told that your local hospital or Trust has a policy in place which restricts you from having your birth partner present with you during and/or after birth, or if you know of a hospital/Trust which has such policies in place, you can challenge these restrictions.

The process for making a challenge is simple:

  1. Choose an email template from the buttons below. Use Template 1 if you are currently pregnant and have been told that birth partner restrictions are in place at your chosen hospital. Use Template 2 if you are a community group member/wider advocate who has heard of a specific hospital’s/Trust’s policy on birth partner restrictions and you want to challenge their policy.
  2. Copy and paste the text from your chosen template into an email and replace the key information in [black italics] with your specific details.
  3. Find the Patient Advice Liaison Service (PALS) email address for your local Trust/hospital here.
  4. CC Birthrights into your email! Send your completed email to your local PALS service and CC in Birthrights at: action@birthrights.org.uk

If you’re sharing details of your challenge on social media, tag @birthrightsorg!

What happens next?

It might take PALS a few weeks to respond to your challenge and depending on the complexity of your specific case, it could take longer than that.

If the Trust/hospital is still refusing your request to have a partner with you after you’ve used our template then we’re here to help and you can contact our Advice team for guidance and assistance on how to proceed further. Alternatively, you can contact a legal firm to advocate on your behalf but this will cost you money.

We want to hear from you!

Please let us know if and when you hear back from your Trust after using our templates, regardless of the outcome. Your responses will help inform future work in this area and could help us drive meaningful change.

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Did you find the information on this page useful?

If so, please share our social media posts and email templates with anyone who you think might benefit. If there’s something you think we should also include, let us know here.