Masks. Telehealth appointments. Cancelled birth classes. Forced isolation.
For mothers preparing to give birth in the year 2020, things have looked a lot different than they did not all that long ago. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has turned the birthing experience upside down, filling what would normally be an exciting, joyous time with anxiety and uncertainty.
“It’s a pendulum,” says Dani Tobergte of Oakley, who was 36 weeks pregnant with her first child when we talked in May, just as coronavirus restrictions were beginning to lift across the country. “Some days I’m very positive. At least we’re healthy and safe — and as long as he’s healthy and safe, it’s going to be OK. Then other days it’s harder.”
Tobergte’s feelings are not unique to pregnant mothers during this pandemic. On one hand, quarantine restrictions have provided the opportunity for extra rest and time to prepare for baby, while at the same time throwing in new hurdles to pioneer. Perhaps one of the hardest things about pregnancy during the time of COVID-19 has been not knowing what to expect day to day. With government guidelines and hospital policies changing seemingly every day in response to the mysterious and unpredictable disease, pregnant mothers have had difficulty making solid plans for their prenatal care and birth. Many of the conversations Tobergte expected to be having during this time have been co-opted by talk of the coronavirus.
“It’s all about the pandemic and how to keep everyone safe,” she says.
So Let’s Get Talking
Now more than ever, communication between you and your care provider and support team — along with a healthy dose of flexibility — is critical. With the conversation changing every day, here are some things you should consider discussing with your partner and birth team as you prepare for birthing day.
Many care providers are adjusting their office spaces and schedules to minimize the risk of disease spread. You may be asked to space out your in-person appointments, like Tobergte was, or do appointments that don’t require lab work via telehealth. During the most restricted times, partners haven’t been able to attend ultrasounds. If any of these things don’t feel right, ask your provider about options. Maybe you can continue visits in-person on a normal schedule, or allow family members to participate in other ways, such as calling in to appointments or viewing the ultrasound via video chat.
Planning for labor has perhaps been one of the most nerve-wracking parts of being pregnant during the pandemic. For Tobergte, COVID-19 restrictions took over before she even had a chance to do a hospital tour. They have also led to other concerns for pregnant moms: Will I be alone at birth? Where do I enter the hospital? Will I get tested for COVID before I can enter? Policies on entrance procedures, visitors, movement through the hospital, and the duration of your stay differ among hospitals and at different stages of the pandemic, so check in regularly with your provider about these ongoing changes.
As testing capabilities increase, most hospitals are scheduling COVID tests for Cesarean sections and inductions, and are performing rapid tests on laboring women when they show up at the hospital, says Katie Brenner, co-founder of Doulas of Cincinnati, which serves pregnant mothers across the city. Hospitals typically have a separate birthing space and restrictions for COVID-positive mothers, so discuss with your provider ahead of time if you have concerns.
Bringing Home Baby
Brenner recommends talking to your pediatrician prior to birthing day about when and how to introduce baby to family and friends. Some families are choosing to do drive-by visits with the baby on the front-lawn, while others may be more comfortable allowing visitors in the house if they’ve quarantined or follow certain hygiene practices. It’s always a good idea to talk to your pediatrician about signs of newborn illness, but with the risk of COVID, it’s particularly important.
Don’t overlook your own prenatal and postnatal mental health as you navigate pregnancy and birth. As Tobergte has found, in-person supports, such as birthing classes, new-parent groups and family visits, are limited during the pandemic, and this can take a mental toll.
“Families are coming home to an isolation situation in a circumstance that is already pretty isolating,” Brenner says. “I encourage families to reach out and get support, even if it’s virtually.”
Talking to your provider about virtual birth classes and support groups, and doing things like having a friend set up a meal train, can help to make you feel less alone. Also, by learning the signs of postpartum depression and setting up lines of support ahead of time, you can easily get help if you need it.
Remember the Big Picture
Preparing to give birth is a profound and intimate time. Although the pandemic may have complicated things, remember that changing hospital policies and other obstacles you face have been put in place to help keep hospital workers and you safe. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice. Continue to ask questions and advocate for yourself and your baby. If that means switching to a provider that better aligns with your concerns or birthing at home because it makes you feel safer, that is OK and things many mothers-to-be are doing during this time. This is your family and your birth — and no virus, not even COVID-19, can take that from you.
Do Your Homework
Check out these resources to keep abreast of the COVID-19 and how it will affect your pregnancy and birth:
- Periodically check your hospital’s website for updates on their COVID-19 policies.
- Get the latest coronavirus guidance via the CDC (gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html) and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (acog.org/en/Topics/COVID-19).
- For a resource page listing the latest in COVID-19 research as it relates to pregnancy and birth, check out Evidence Based Birth (com/covid19).