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.

At OSF, safety is always our top priority. During the current pandemic, we have made many changes to our hospitals and medical offices to keep our patients, their families and Mission Partners as safe as possible.

  • Our increased safety precautions include:
  • Arranging waiting rooms to allow for physical distancing
  • Increasing the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting
  • Screening all patients, visitors and Mission Partners, and separating those who may be contagious from others
  • Changing our visitor guidelines
  • Requiring face masks in all OSF facilities
  • 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

Knowing whether or not you are COVID-19 positive will allow you and your caregivers to take extra safety precautions which will reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus to your newborn and others and reduce the likelihood of complications from the virus.

If you are scheduled for a C-section or induction, it is recommended you be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of the scheduled day. This allows for results returned in most cases prior to delivery of your baby. If when you arrive for admission, you have not been tested within the past 72 hours, a COVID-19 test will be ordered at that time.

Protective masks

You and your support person will be required to wear a mask when you enter the hospital. If you are positive for COVID-19, the delivery would occur in a designated isolation area, 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.

After delivery

Updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that separating a COVID-positive mom from her baby is no longer recommended. 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.

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

Last Updated: March 15, 2021

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