While much has changed in the face of 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19), one thing has not—babies are still being born. But many expectant mothers are anxious, and they may have questions about whether a hospital birth is still a safe option, who can accompany them, and how to stay healthy.
Ming C. Tsai, MD, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn, answers questions about giving birth at a hospital and explains the safety protocols in place at our labor and delivery units, including those at Tisch Hospital and NYU Winthrop Hospital.
Should Pregnant Women Be Worried About Coming to the Hospital?
This is an anxiety-provoking time for all, and it’s understandable that people are concerned. But the hospital is still the safest place to give birth. I understand that people are hesitant to come to the hospital, but I want to stress that we are doing everything possible to keep all of our patients and our staff safe and healthy.
What COVID-Related Safety Protocols Are in Place During Labor and Delivery?
Every patient who comes into the hospital for labor and delivery must put on a mask and is asked if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, loss of smell, shortness of breath, muscle pain, headache, or sore throat. When admitted to the hospital, all laboring mothers are tested for COVID-19.
All NYU Langone providers, nurses, and patient-facing staff have been tested for COVID-19. They are screened daily for symptoms and are required to wear the appropriate or recommended personal protective equipment (PPE).
After delivery, we are reducing the hospital stay by one day for medically stable mothers and babies. For women who had a vaginal birth, that means they can usually go home 24 hours after delivery. For women who had a cesarean delivery, they can often go home after 48 hours.
Discharging women earlier from the hospital has the benefit of reducing their risk of illness, but it is very important that these mothers follow up with their doctors and with their baby’s pediatricians, who can monitor postpartum care.
Can Women in Labor Have a Support Person?
According to NYU Langone’s visitor policy, labor and delivery patients can have one person with them during delivery. That person can be a partner, family member, doula, or other support person. That person is screened and monitored for symptoms of COVID-19 and required to wear a face mask. Limiting the number of people permitted in the hospital is part of our strategy to reduce the risk of infection.
How Are COVID-Positive Women Being Cared for During Childbirth?
We very closely monitor women who have COVID-19 during childbirth to ensure their overall health. Delivery takes place in a room that is isolated from the rest of the labor and delivery unit. Everyone involved in the delivery is in full PPE, which includes gloves and N95 masks.
After birth, we discuss with the mother the risks and benefits of keeping her baby in the room with her. If the mother has an active infection and is at high risk for transmission, we recommend that the baby be cared for in the nursery where he or she can be fed expressed breastmilk by the mother’s chosen support person. For a mother who received a positive test result but is not displaying symptoms and therefore is at low risk for transmission, the baby can stay in the room. The mother must wear a face mask and wash her hands before and after interacting with her baby.
How Can Pregnant Women Stay Healthy During the Pandemic?
The best thing pregnant women can do during this pandemic is stay home. Social distancing is effective, as is frequent hand washing. If you have to go out, such as to a doctor’s appointment, wear a mask. The face mask has been proven to reduce transmission. Call your obstetrician as soon as you experience contractions, as well as if you have any concerns about the pregnancy. Your doctor will let you know when it’s time to go to the hospital.
Also, try not to worry. Tension and anxiety are normal right now, but odds are you will have a perfectly safe, healthy delivery.