Newborn and parents in hospital bed.

Is giving birth during a pandemic safe?

If you are expecting, especially if this will be your first baby, you already have plenty of questions and fears. Now, the reality you’ll be bringing new life into the world during the COVID-19 pandemic can add to your anxiety levels.

Melinda Feely, MD, an OSF Medical Group family medicine physician who specializes in obstetrics, said fear of contracting COVID-19 is prompting some pregnant women to explore delivering at home when they would not have considered that option previously. However, research by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology found births were significantly safer using midwives in a hospital setting vs. home delivery.

“Hospital delivery is three times safer than home delivery. There are so many complications that can happen during birth that minutes and seconds matter so we can ensure a safe birth for the infant and mom,” Dr. Feely stressed.

Things to remember

Ralph Velazquez, MD, Chief Medical Officer for OSF HealthCare, points out the safe environment of hospital birthing units.

  • Hospital birthing centers are separate from where COVID-19 patients receive care
  • Nurses and physicians working in designated labor and delivery areas are not mingling with other units which might have COVID-19 positive patients, including pregnant women
  • New safety protocols make the hospital the best place to give birth

If you choose to deliver at home, Dr. Velazquez wants you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has everyone in the birthing house been screened, had their temperature checked and answered all the questions before they were there?
  • Is your home as clean as the hospital?
  • Are you using the same cleansers a hospital is using?
  • Has the person helping with the delivery been screened?
  • Do you know the last place they were before they got to your house for delivery and that that place had no one with COVID?

A few thoughts on visitors

Newborn infant in hospital crib.For the safety of caregivers and patients, hospital visitors are limited to one support person in the labor and delivery-birthing suite. However, OSF HealthCare is allowing others to be included virtually.

“We have loosened restrictions allowing FaceTime and videoing during the laboring process so you can have your support people with you, even remotely,” Dr. Feely said. “We try to promote letting you help us guide your birth plan, so you just need to let us know what you want during your labor and delivery process. And as long as things are safe and going well for mom and baby, we can go ahead and honor those.”

Pre-birth COVID-19 testing

Testing is not required for vaginal deliveries because of the uncertain timing of natural childbirth. If you have a scheduled C-section, it is recommended you be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of the scheduled day, but testing is not required. Be sure to speak to your doctor about the need for a test.

Protective masks

You and your support person will be required to wear a mask when you enter the hospital but will not be required in the birthing suite unless you are positive for COVID-19. In that case, the delivery would occur in a separate, negative air pressure operating room, which would prevent the potential spread of the virus. Your care team will wear N95 masks and face shields and you and your support person will be masked throughout labor and delivery.

With vaginal deliveries, the surgeon or nurse-midwife and other caregivers will be wearing surgical masks and face shields.

After delivery

Updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the risks and benefits of separating a COVID-positive mom from her baby should be discussed, and separation should not be considered as the first or only option. Early research suggests COVID-19 doesn’t appear to pass from mother to fetus in the womb and that you are at no higher risk for contracting the virus if you take recommended precautions.

Skin-to-skin contact is important for bonding post-delivery but should be done cautiously. Once you have your baby home, Dr. Feely recommends the infant have direct contact only with people living in the home.

Newborn infant grabbing father's finger.

“You just want to continue your good hand hygiene, and if you’re going to the store, making sure you’re coming home and washing up and wearing your mask when you’re out at the store,” Dr. Feely said.

Even though virtual and window visits aren’t the same as the typical welcome home, preventing transmission to an infant after delivery is critically important. Be mindful that that kind of isolation can impact your mental health. Changes in hormone levels, lack of sleep and stress contribute to postpartum depression.

“Make sure you’re reaching out to your social support even if it’s remotely — that’s important; staying in touch with your family and reaching out with questions to your physicians and other care providers. We’re all here for you,” Dr. Feely said.

For any questions, moms to be can also call the 24/7, OSF COVID-19 Nurse Hotline at 833-OSF-KNOW (833-673-5669).

Ask your provider if there is a new moms’ support group or a social media group you can join as another source of support.

About Author: David Pruitt

David Pruitt is a writer for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare. He has a bachelor’s of journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a reporter before joining OSF HealthCare in 2014.

An avid golfer and fisherman, David was born and raised Alton, Illinois, which is where he currently resides with his son, James.

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Categories: Birth & Maternity, COVID-19