Pregnancy and childbirth are stressful enough, but they’re even more so when hospitals and doctor’s offices are flooded with coronavirus patients and people are trying to stay at home as much as possible.
Because of this, pregnant women may have more questions than usual about staying safe, changes in the delivery room and whether their babies can get COVID-19.
“Right now, with the data we have – which is not that much – we do not believe that pregnant people are at increased risk for COVID-19,” said Dr. Melissa Simon, an OB-GYN and the vice chair of research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, where she also directs the Center for Health Equity Transformation. But she stresses that the same precautions we’re all taking are important – good hand hygiene, no face-touching, wearing a mask outside and physical distancing.
Many medical offices and clinics have shifted prenatal visits to telehealth systems when possible. And when it comes time for delivery, most hospitals are only allowing one visitor in the room. Despite fears of hospitals being overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, Simon says they’re still the safest place to deliver a baby.
“The hospital is definitely a different place than it was a few months ago, but I can assure you with our ambulance system and our medics and the external support that is available to respond to emergencies right now being taxed by COVID, absolutely it is safer to deliver in the hospital,” Simon said. “If you are considering a home birth, there may not be the emergency response that is needed – and it needs to be super fast if you’re having a home birth and there is something going wrong.”
Simon says mothers who have tested positive for COVID-19 have safely delivered babies, and based on the limited data it doesn’t appear the virus can be passed through amniotic fluid or breast milk. But people with the coronavirus who are pregnant or have recently given birth do need to be quarantined, which Simon acknowledges is very difficult.
“You can feel very distanced in many ways in pregnancy in general, but having the diagnosis of COVID on top of that may make you feel more isolated,” Simon said. “Really paying attention to those feelings and leaning into those feelings and acknowledging them and doing some things to help relieve the stress and anxiety around that (is important).” She urges anyone feeling a mental health strain – whether or not they have the coronavirus – to reach out to their health care provider.
And Simon, who studies health disparities, inequities and racism, says it’s particularly important for everyone to have access to high-quality care during the pandemic.
“Everybody deserves to be heard, and if (you) feel like you’re being treated wrong, not being listened to … or something’s just not right, ask somebody else. You have every right to get your questions answered and to be cared for the same way as everybody else.” Simon said. “It’s really important, especially when we know that black moms across the nation carry a higher burden of maternal mortality and poor outcomes in birth … (and) especially in a city like Chicago where we already have a terrible disparity in coronavirus outcomes.”