Delivering a Baby During a Pandemic: What to Know

April 2, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Thomas Bader, M.D. contributes to topics such as Medical Quality.

With most states reporting community-based spread of coronavirus, many people are fearing going out in public, especially to a hospital where there will inevitably be COVID-19 positive patients. One of our experts answers some of the most pressing questions that expecting mothers and families may have during this time.

Is it safe to deliver in a hospital right now?

“Yes, it is absolutely safe to deliver in the hospital despite what’s going on,” says Thomas Bader, M.D., OB/GYN and VP of Medical Quality for Hackensack Meridian Health. “That is because the likelihood of a patient acquiring the coronavirus during a hospital stay is extremely low.”

Dr. Bader states that a mother going into labor or her partner are extremely unlikely to get any type of community-spread virus or infection in the hospital, whether a pandemic is occurring or not. He says that while there is unfortunately always the small risk of a person developing a hospital-acquired infection, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), the risk of contracting coronavirus is even lower.

“There are a variety of measures that hospitals are taking to protect patients,” Dr. Bader adds. “This includes ongoing evaluation of team members to ensure that those with symptoms do not report to work and stringent masking guidelines to ensure that even if a team member is in the early stages of coronavirus or are asymptomatic, they are unlikely to unknowingly spread the virus. In addition, many hospitals are requiring expectant mothers and their support persons to undergo continuous temperature and symptom evaluation upon admission and throughout their stay.”

And, it’s helpful to remember that nurses and physicians working on designated labor and delivery floors are not mingling with other units who may have COVID-19 positive patients.

What if there is a COVID-19 positive mother or newborn in the unit?

In the unusual circumstance that there is a COVID-19 positive patient in the labor and delivery unit, other patients can rest assured that the infected patient will be cared for in a specialized room built to contain the virus, separate from the general maternal population. This same protocol would be followed in the unlikely event of a newborn testing positive upon birth, being separated from other babies in the nursery.

“There is a true separation of care between healthy and sick patients, adding another layer of protection against spread of the virus and enhancing the security of growing families,” Dr. Bader continues.

What should new families do to prepare for hospital admission?

Since many hospitals have instituted visitation restrictions, there are some extra preparations that should be made before going to the hospital to deliver. To start, expecting families should anticipate that once the support person enters the hospital, they may not be permitted to leave and return, making it necessary to prepare and pack more than they normally would.

“Expecting families should not only pack several days’ worth of clothing and toiletries for the mother, but for the partner as well,” Dr. Bader says. “They should prepare as if they are going away for a long weekend, being mindful to pack any medications needed, changes of clothing, snacks or other potential items you may normally choose to leave the hospital for.”

Are home births a safe alternative?

With families having fears about being exposed to COVID-19 in the hospital, some are considering exploring home birth instead.

“The decision of where to have your child, whether it’s a hospital, a birthing center or home birth, really should be made without considering the COVID-19 pandemic,” he adds. “When considering this option, families should seriously contemplate the potential need for hospitalization, such as requiring an emergency cesarean section or specialized neonatal care. I would not risk the possibility of not having readily accessible care in a hospital environment if the need arises because of fear of contracting the virus. This pandemic should not hold any weight in the decision of choosing where to give birth.”

Should new parents take any special measures to protect their newborn once they are able to go home?

Parents should provide the same level of care for their newborn as they would if there were no pandemic occurring. They should keep in mind that babies are more likely to exhibit symptoms such as fever or respiratory symptoms associated with common illnesses that newborns get, and that they shouldn’t jump to conclusions that those symptoms are being caused by coronavirus without consulting with their pediatrician.

“It’s still imperative for a new family to have a close relationship with their pediatrician to ensure the baby is thriving and developing normally,” Dr. Bader adds.

New parents should balance social distancing and society’s general limitation of travel with making sure their newborn is getting the best care. Fortunately, many physicians are offering telemedicine as an option to minimize risk of exposure. Talk with your pediatrician to see if and when this could be an option for regular check-ups.

While this is a stressful time, Dr. Bader urges families to not lose sight of the bigger picture.

“Don’t let concern about the unlikely event of contracting coronavirus during your hospital stay or visit with pediatrician prevent you from enjoying this amazing experience, but don’t forget about the fundamentals, either. Following proper hand hygiene and social distancing measures are so much more effective in preventing the spread of the virus than avoiding accessing the critical care that babies need.”

Resources and Next Steps

Learn about the precautions that Hackensack Meridian Health hospitals are taking to keep patients, visitors and team members safe.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.