What to expect in these uncertain times when you’re preparing for labor and delivery.
If you’re an expectant or new mother during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be searching everywhere for answers on how the coronavirus can affect you and your baby. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of unknowns.
Currently, pregnant women appear to be at a similar risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19 as the rest of the general population. However, if a pregnant woman becomes severely ill, there can be complications for her and her baby. Additionally, some women facing high-risk pregnancies could be at a higher risk due to age or underlying medical conditions, such as hypertension or lung disease, explains Jefferson Health Maternal Fetal Medicine physician Rebekah McCurdy, MD.
What safety precautions should I take to protect myself from COVID-19?
Pregnant women, in good health, should follow the same precautions as everyone else. In addition to washing your hands; not touching your face; avoiding close contact with sick people; social-distancing; and cleaning high-touch surfaces; the CDC now recommends wearing a cloth face mask when out in public.
“If you have to leave home for work, consider speaking with someone about your options for medical leave, or how to reduce contact with others as much as possible,” said Dr. McCurdy. “It’s also important to not make unnecessary trips. Essential trips for work, medical appointments, and grocery shopping are okay, but, other than that, you should stay home.”
If I experience possible COVID-19 symptoms, what should I do?
“Call your prenatal physician as soon as possible,” said Dr. McCurdy. “Depending on your symptoms and pregnancy status, they will either recommend staying home with regular check-ins with your doctor, getting tested, and/or going to the hospital.”
Am I still able to visit my prenatal physician?
Safety policies may vary by physician; however, many healthcare organizations, including Jefferson Health, advocate the use of telehealth.
“To help decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19, we want to limit in-person visits as much as possible,” explained Dr. McCurdy. “At Jefferson, we are supporting patients coming to the office for three key prenatal visits and at least one ultrasound. Most other visits can be safely transitioned to telehealth. Additional in-person visits and ultrasounds may be needed for women with other risk factors or concerns.”
Mothers should plan on coming to ultrasounds without visitors to help slow the spread, adds Dr. McCurdy, however, they are typically permitted to call or video-chat with a loved one.
How can I prepare for my telehealth visits?
“Compile a list of questions beforehand. Note which prescriptions you need refills for. We are advising patients to obtain their own blood pressure cuffs, so they can take their vitals, and scales, so they can track their weight,” said Dr. McCurdy. “We do not recommend use of fetal heart rate monitors at home; we provide this service during in-person visits. However, moms can monitor their baby’s movement by keeping a kick-count journal.”
At Jefferson Health, telehealth visits via JeffConnect® can be done anytime, anywhere, over a smart phone, tablet, or computer. Physicians can provide step-by-step instructions on how to activate accounts and set-up calls.
I recommend that new moms chat virtually with their loved ones as much as possible.
What policies have changed for labor and delivery?
Currently, we are allowing one support person throughout the duration of the mom’s hospital stay.
“The expectant mother and her support person will be questioned about coronavirus symptoms prior to entering the hospital, and they may be asked to wear a mask the entire time,” said Dr. McCurdy. “Support people cannot be switched throughout the stay. Mothers can still stay as long as they need to, however, we are supporting earlier discharges for those who are able to and interested in returning home.”
“We don’t anticipate further restrictions on having a support person anytime soon,” added McCurdy.
Dr. McCurdy also noted that planning a home birth to avoid coming to a hospital can result in significant risk for the mother and the baby. Home births to avoid COVID-19 are not currently recommended. Labor and Delivery units throughout Jefferson Health are well-equipped with staff and supplies to assist the new mother in a safe and welcoming environment.
How can new moms find breastfeeding support while at home?
Breastfeeding support is available in many ways. Prenatal care providers and lactation consultants can provide breastfeeding support through telehealth, as well as in-person visits as needed, explains Dr. McCurdy.
“Jefferson has a variety of online resources about breastfeeding issues, such as low milk production and inverted nipples. There is a “Warm Line” (215-955-6665) for our mothers to call with questions or concerns about breastfeeding. In addition, local breastfeeding organizations have information online and through webinars and forums.”
What will new moms do for their baby’s first well-child visits with a pediatrician?
Mothers should speak with their pediatricians regarding the timing and nature of follow-up visits for their newborns, says Dr. McCurdy. In some cases, telehealth may be appropriate, but in other cases, in-person visits will be needed to measure the newborn’s weight, receive vaccines, and/or address other concerns.
How might the pandemic affect my mental health, and what should I do?
For some women, extra time at home could be a relief, allowing them to settle into motherhood, says Dr. McCurdy. However, for others, not having a baby shower or visits by family and friends can be incredibly disappointing. This lack of socialization and typical daily routine can increase rates of anxiety and post-partum depression.
“I recommend that new moms chat virtually with their loved ones as much as possible,” said Dr. McCurdy. “It’s also important to reflect on how stress affects you and what you can do to reduce it. This might involve downloading apps to help with mindfulness and meditation. It can also involve revisiting old hobbies or picking up new ones.”
Additionally, for women who do not have a safe home environment – including women who may be experiencing intimate partner violence – prenatal providers are well-equipped with resources to help. Please, reach out for more info.
Above all else, Dr. McCurdy says, remember that your doctors have not disappeared. “We are still here, and you should feel comfortable and confident with the care you’re receiving. If not, don’t hesitate to speak up about changing your birth plan. We will do everything in our power to help make it happen.”