Every mom has a unique birth experience. But all moms who have had their babies between mid-March of this year and whenever COVID-19 restrictions are permanently lifted will be forever bonded by a shared detail in their birth experience. On top of typical childbirth concerns and questions, they have had to face the great unknown of a global pandemic.
We set out to provide answers and advice for pregnant women to give some clarity on how the COVID-19 pandemic might affect their birth experience.
Take extra precautions during pregnancy.
Though studies do not indicate that pregnant women are more at risk for COVID-19 infection, you should be particularly cautious leading up to your due date to preserve your health and strength. In addition to regular hand washing and sanitizing, try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth, and wear a mask when out. Avoid all travel and contact with anyone who is sick. Keep a safe distance from people outside your household and do not allow visitors in your home. Build a strong immune system by getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet, and staying hydrated. Finally, check with your doctor to make sure you’re up to date on your flu and Tdap vaccines and use telemedicine for routine prenatal checkups, when appropriate.
Pick your ONE person.
You will be allowed one partner or support person throughout your hospital stay. Identify the person who will be your greatest cheerleader during labor. If you have a doula, you may want to choose that person over your partner if you have older children at home. Otherwise, set up a video call with your doula from your hospital room.
Social distancing rules apply in the hospital.
Though at many hospitals the policy restricting OB patients to one support person was already the norm on the labor and delivery floor, it dramatically changes the situation on the maternity floor. Whereas visitors used to be able to pop in with balloons or flowers during set visitation hours, all visitors are now off-limits. To keep your exposure risk low, you and your support person will be encouraged to stay in your room unless it is absolutely necessary to leave. Make sure to fill your hospital bag with all the essential toiletries and snacks you might need during your hospital stay.
New hospital policies are in place for everyone’s protection.
When you check in at your hospital, you and your support person will both complete a series of screening questions related to your health and recent travel. You will also have your temperature checked and then get a nasal swab COVID-19 test. As you enter the hospital, if you are not already wearing a face mask (which we recommend you do, and may in fact be mandated in your area), you will be given a face mask and asked to wear it any time you have contact with staff or leave your room. Your support person should be responsible for wearing his/her own face covering at all times. (A mask will be provided if your support person is unable to bring one.)
Quarantining in your hospital room with baby can be a blessing in disguise.
Once you are settled into your hospital room with your newborn, it will just be you and your partner learning to take care of your baby in a controlled environment. You can spend this time learning the rhythms of a brand-new baby and training your body to refuel with little catnaps. Without the obligation of entertaining friends and family, you can instead focus on soaking up this special time with your bundle of joy.
If mom is COVID+ , your experience will be a little different .
Although your experience will be different, your team’s goal will remain the same. Because COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets that can be aerosolized (spit, saliva, snot, etc.), the heavy breathing of childbirth can make it particularly contagious. Your delivery team will wear full protective gear including goggles and face masks with large face shields. Your support person will be allowed to stay with you until the postpartum period. Whether your baby rooms in with you or stays with you during your hospital stay will vary from facility to facility, though most asymptomatic moms will have the option to keep baby with her during her stay. However, mom will still be asked to wear a mask, and be extra vigilant about hand washing and hygiene when in contact with baby.
A home birth is still not necessarily the safest option.
A planned hospital birth is still considered the safest option for delivering your baby. Since the beginning of the epidemic, hospitals have been adding many science-based processes [informed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics] for diagnosing and treating COVID-19. In addition to providing care that feels personal, hospital OB providers will work hard to keep you, your family, and your baby safe from infection.
When it comes to visitors, define what is essential for you.
The visitor restrictions that are enforced in the hospital are a good model of boundaries to keep in your home. It takes a village to care for a newborn, and you might decide that the help of a family member will be essential during the postpartum period. If your parents live nearby, are healthy, and have been maintaining proper social distancing, you may choose to have them come help when you return home.
Just be sure to follow proper precautions, including proper hand washing and wearing a mask the entire time. Because COVID-19 is spread through droplets, all adult and child visitors over the age of two should be masked and appropriately social-distancing.
Trust your care team and yourself.
Your care team’s goal is to deliver a healthy baby while keeping you safe. Trust your provider and your own instincts to make good choices, though some things will ultimately be out of your control. Don’t dwell on other people’s childbirth experiences or family situations, since yours will be unique to you. As was true before the pandemic, if you feel like something is not right, or if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask for help or more support. In spite of the many changes imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, you are still empowered to advocate for yourself and your own childbirth and postpartum experience.
With Warmth and Wellness,
Your EmmaWell Team
Note: while our advice is known to be accurate at many hospitals at the time of this publishing, this is a dynamic situation and you should take care to check the CDC's guidance and specific policies at your local hospital before you deliver.