Having a baby is stressful enough in normal times. Now the coronavirus pandemic is adding a whole new layer of angst to the experience.
A growing number of hospitals in France and other countries won’t allow fathers to attend their child’s birth, while mothers suspected of being infected with COVID-19 are being separated from their newborns for the first weeks of their life.
The drastic moves aim to curb transmission of the respiratory disease, as the soaring number of sick patients puts hospitals under pressure.
Health officials say it’s too early to know for sure whether newborns infected with COVID-19 are at increased risk for complications, and some are recommending extra caution until more data is available. Just last week, an infant who tested positive for the disease died in Chicago. No further details were given and an investigation was launched.
A childcare worker at a maternity ward in Paris told Euronews how her service is handling cases of COVID-19. She spoke on condition of anonymity about the unprecedented – and heartbreaking – measures staff now have to take.
"From the moment we have a suspicion about a mother, we test her and as a precautionary measure, we separate them. It lasts at least three days, to be sure we have done all the tests, and it can go up to 14 days if the mother is COVID positive.”
For new mothers, that wait can be excruciating.
“We try to maintain the mother-baby bond by sending pictures, by explaining what’s going on. It's difficult, because being separated from your child after his birth is not what we wish for,” the childcare worker said.
More and more maternity wards now also prohibit fathers from attending childbirth. That’s not the case in the hospital were this professional works. But once the baby is born, all visits are forbidden – even the father has to go home, and he cannot return to visit his partner and child.
Playing it safe
French hospitals are not the only ones to take such precautions. Chinese medical guidelines recommend newborns be isolated from mothers infected with COVID-19 for at least two weeks or until the mother is no longer considered infectious
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also said new mothers who have tested positive for coronavirus should be temporarily separated from their newborns.
However, the CDC’s interim guidance adds: “The risks and benefits of temporary separation of the mother from her baby should be discussed with the mother by the healthcare team.”
The World Health Organization recommends keeping mothers and babies together, and encourages infected mothers to continue to breastfeed their child while taking precautions such as wearing a mask and washing their hands before and after touching their baby.
The limited data available so far suggests that the new coronavirus rarely causes severe cases of the COVID-19 disease in children.
Research published in the journal Pediatrics traced more than 2,100 infected children in China and noted only one death, that of a 14-year old. Over 90% of all patients were asymptomatic, mild, or moderate cases. However, infants under the age of 1 were the most vulnerable to severe and critical forms of the disease.
Until more data is collected, many prefer to play it safe, and French health care workers are trying to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections spreading inside maternity wards.
"All patients who arrive with symptoms or who are known to be COVID-19 positive don't come through the same door, they have their own isolated area,” Marine Muscat Orbach, a midwife at a Paris hospital, told Euronews.
“We are also limiting the number of people coming in and have introduced tele-consultations for patients who are not having any major complications during their pregnancy," she explained.
Like yoga and after-work drinks in the lockdown era, birthing classes are also moving online.