Local health systems find ways to keep expectant mothers safe during the pandemic.
A global pandemic has not slowed down the birth rate, but it has required new layers of safety and precaution for pregnant mothers and the health care workers who take care of them.
Providers with St. Elizabeth Physicians deliver on average 155 babies per month. This number has not varied since the COVID-19 virus emerged.
“With COVID, we have not settled down,” says Dr. Christina Green, an OB-GYN at St. Elizabeth. “It’s one aspect of medicine that doesn’t stop when a pandemic happens.”
The same has been true at TriHealth, which says it delivers the most babies in the Greater Cincinnati area..
“The good thing about obstetrics is that babies are born all the time, so we didn’t see the same drop off that other specialties saw,” says Dr. Laura Mucenski, an OB-GYN who practices at Good Samaritan and Bethesda North hospitals.
But obstetricians and staff had to adapt quickly to protect the health of a vulnerable population, as well as themselves, as the coronavirus spread.
Tops among the precautions is required COVID-19 testing for all mothers in labor or scheduled to give birth.
Women who are scheduled for an induced birth or a Caesarean section are asked to get an outpatient COVID test done two or three days before the birth, Mucenski says. Patients who arrive at the hospital in labor get a swab test. Patients who have COVID symptoms get a rapid test, and those who have no symptoms get a test that typically takes a couple of days for the results, she says.
Moms who test positive are assigned to negative pressure rooms for the duration of their hospital stays, she says.
St. Elizabeth has several rooms specifically designated for COVID-positive mothers. Green says. “Once they go in, they don’t come out until they are discharged,” she says. New moms can have one other person, their partner or another support person, with them in the room, she says.
New, COVID-positive mothers can “co-isolate” with their babies if they choose, she says, and breastfeeding is still encouraged, although a mask is recommended and so is physical distancing when feeding is not happening.
Some prenatal visits for low-risk pregnancies are now taking place via phone or computer to reduce the exposure to the mothers and to the staff.
If pregnant mothers are afflicted with COVID-19, they are considered at high risk for serious complications, Mucenski says.
“We have seen in studies that pregnant patients are at higher risk of ICU admissions or of needing a ventilator to breathe,” she says.
“But there does not appear to be any increased risk of mortality compared to non-pregnant people.”
Both doctors say they encourage pregnant mothers to avoid crowds, wear masks and maintain good physical distancing.
“One of the biggest questions I’ve received recently is, ‘Can I have a baby shower?’” Green says.
She doesn’t recommend it. “At this point, because there is still so much unknown and the pregnant population is part of a high-risk patient population for COVID, we are recommending much more limited contact and definitely maintaining social distancing,” she says.