The current coronavirus pandemic has brought fear and uncertainty into the lives of many Americans.
As pregnant women prepare to give birth across the country and at Baystate Health, many are concerned they will be giving birth alone with no loved one by their side, while others are equally concerned about being separated from their newborns if they test positive upon admission to the hospital.
Dr. Heather Sankey, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baystate Medical Center, answers questions about what to expect.
Why are pregnant women being tested for COVID-19?
Baystate is testing all patients admitted to the hospital to get a more accurate count of those patients who are asymptomatic (have no symptoms) or pre-symptomatic (will soon have symptoms) carriers of the virus in the community.
The information will help caregivers to determine the safest approach for their care during their hospital stay and when they leave the hospital.
Will I be separated from my newborn if I test positive for COVID-19?
“We are following guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the best way to care for the baby when mom tests positive. The determination of whether or not to separate a mother with known or suspected COVID-19 and her infant is a shared decision between the mother and the clinical team,” Dr. Sankey added. “We have found that a small number of women without symptoms test positive. The results allows us to take steps to minimize the spread of the virus to others, including the baby.”
According to the CDC, decisions about how to care for mothers and infants are based on the following considerations:
- The clinical condition of the mother and the infant
- Testing results of the mother (confirmed vs. suspected) and infant (a positive infant test would negate the need to separate)
- Desire to breastfeed
- The ability to maintain separation after leaving the hospital
“Testing also allows for early diagnosis to prevent spread to the newborn, and to family and friends upon returning home. Knowing a mom has tested positive also gives us the opportunity to teach her how to care for baby with minimum risk at home,” Dr. Sankey said.
How can I protect my newborn from COVID-19 when I go home?
Here are some tips for reducing the the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to your baby:
- Have someone in the home without COVID-19 or symptoms care for your baby.
- Mothers should minimize contact with baby as much as possible.
- When not providing care, keep baby at a distance of 6 feet or in a separate room.
- All caregivers should wash hands before any contact with baby.
- All caregivers should wear a face mask during contact with baby.
Is my baby at risk for getting COVID-19?
Dr. Sankey noted that it is believed transmission rarely, if ever, occurs in utero. Getting vaccinated while pregnant may help to protect the baby even after birth.
However, transmission after birth can occur due to contact with infectious respiratory secretions from a cough or sneeze and is a concern because it has been associated with severe complications in some newborns.
Is it safe to breastfeed during the pandemic?
Mothers who test positive are also concerned about breastfeeding.
Breast milk provides protection against many illnesses and is the best source of nutrition for most infants.
In limited studies, COVID-19 has not been detected in breast milk. However, it is not known for sure whether mothers with COVID-19 can spread the virus via breast milk, or whether there are protective antibodies in the milk. Even if the virus cannot be transmitted via breast milk, it may still be transmitted to the baby during close exposure, like breastfeeding, due to mothers coughing or sneezing.
“Mothers with known or suspected COVID-19 who choose to breastfeed must put on a face mask and practice hand hygiene before each feeding. If, for some reason, there is a temporary separation, we encourage moms to express their breast milk which will be fed to her baby by one of her caregivers,” Dr. Sankey said.
Can I have a partner with me during birth?
At Baystate Health hospitals, you will not have to give birth alone. According to the current visitor policy, one partner is allowed to attend the birth and can stay with the new mom until discharge, unless she or her support person develop respiratory symptoms or a fever. The partner will be screened twice a day for signs of infection. Two additional visitors are also allowed during labor and postpartum.
Wondering what to pack? See our list of what to bring to the hospital for before, during, and after labor and delivery.
“We want what is best for baby and mom. Our goal is to keep baby safe in the hospital and at home upon discharge, even if mom tests positive for COVID-19,” Dr. Sankey said.
Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I'm pregnant?
For most people, getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible is the safest choice. Pregnant COVID patients are 5 times more likely to end up in the intensive care unit than non-pregnant COVID patients.
Doctors at the University of Massachusetts Medical School – Baystate created a shared decision making guide to help pregnant people and their providers decide whether or not to get the coronavirus vaccine.
Learn More About COVID-19 Safety Measures