Expecting a new baby of course comes with countless questions and concerns and demands making innumerable decisions. But now with the COVID-19 pandemic in near full swing, for many parents those same questions and fears are multiplied 10-fold.
“For eight weeks we’ve been creating a service that will meet your needs and expectations. We want your experience to be as close to what you envisioned as possible,” said Dr. Christian Pettker, an Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine at a live-webinar hosted Thursday night for all expecting families in Yale New Haven Hospital’s coverage area which stretches from Essex to Westport to Middletown.
The healthcare practices are much the same for mothers delivering at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London.
For the Yale New Haven Health System the most significant change for expecting mothers is that the Vidone Birth Center at Saint Raphael Campus has been closed to make room for patients with COVID-19. Midwives working in the center are now operating at the York Street Campus.
Families should expect visitor restrictions, mask requirements for the support person and a COVID-19 test administered to all moms when they arrive for delivery.
2.6 percent of mothers have tested positive since Yale New Haven Hospital began administering the tests.
If the mother screens positive for the virus, she will be brought to a special unit at Yale New Haven Health designated for COVID-positive moms.
“We are especially prepared to take care of moms that have COVID,” said Dr. Katherine Campbell, an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine. “There is a specific unit for moms delivering who have COVID that is set up to keep you and your baby safe.”
Unlike the typical birthing unit, however, newborn infants are recommended to be separated from their mothers after delivery, Campbell said. The separation recommendation comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s the same as if you were to have the flu, we recommend separating the baby and identifying a healthy caregiver to take care of the baby until you recover,” Campbell said.
Campbell reassured families that there would be no forced removal of newborns from their mothers.
“Nobody is going to remove your baby from your arms against your wishes, it will be a shared decision-making process,” she said. “This decision isn’t made just by a provider, it’s a team decision and a partnership with multiple providers and yourself.”
Although for a mother with COVID-19, birth and the first few days postpartum will certainly be different, the primary message that the doctors, nurses and midwives kept repeating was that Yale New Haven Health is working hard to try to give all families the same birth experience that they had planned for.
“Every woman’s birth is truly unique. You have this idea of what it’s going to be like and then you have a pandemic hit,” said Jennifer Gerstein, a labor and delivery nurse at Yale-New Haven health. “We still want to give you the best birth experience we can give you.”
Medically, the only change is that nitrous oxide – often used to relieve anxiety and pain during labor – is no longer being used. The reason, Campbell said, is the aerosol may increase the risk of virus particles infecting the mother.
Gerstein assured mothers that although there would be no walking in the hallways once they arrived at the hospital, birthing rooms still have tubs, squat bars, birthing balls and all the amenities typically provided. Mothers in labor are also not being required to wear masks, instead their support person and all medical professionals are wearing proper personal protection equipment.
The message to all families was the hospital is doing their very best to keep all mothers and newborns safe from coronavirus. Despite this, one of the most common questions asked at the session was whether a home birth should be considered a safer alternative during the COVID-19 pandemic. The answer from midwife Laura Sundstrom, was your original birth plan should not be altered due to the virus.
“For every birth, before this and now, the question should be where do you feel the most safe. If your thought throughout pregnancy has been a hospital birth, then you should continue with a hospital birth,” Sundstrom said. “The COVID outbreak does not change where you should plan to have your baby, hospitals are safe for you.”
For any parent with lingering questions Pettker urged them to contact the helpline established at each hospital system in the state. For Yale New Haven Health the number is 833-275-9644.