Giving birth in the time of Corona

Having a baby should be a positive experience, even during a pandemic. Discover how Mediclinic ensures you – and your newborn – stay safe.

Cape Town mom Roxy Cullinan admits she was anxious In the days before her scheduled caesarean at Mediclinic Constantiaberg. ‘It was overwhelming because we were in Level 5 lockdown and everything was uncertain,’ she recalls. ‘I wasn’t sleeping well because I wasn’t sure who in the immediate family would be allowed to meet my baby once she’d been delivered. There was so much uncertainty surrounding the virus – and the media hype didn’t help.’

Although she wasn’t worried about contracting the virus, as positive cases were still extremely low, Roxy was happy that because no non-essential surgeries were scheduled, the hospital was very quiet. ‘I went into labour 10 days before my planned C-section, but the whole process – from admission to discharge – was extremely smooth,’ she recalls. ‘Although the maternity ward was full, all the necessary experts were on duty. I was extremely aware of the strict hygiene protocols and was grateful my husband was allowed to accompany me into theatre. However, he was only permitted to come and go from the hospital once a day and no other visitors were allowed. That was actually a positive experience as I had a full three days to rest, feed and bond with my newborn before going home to my toddler. We weren’t allowed to walk around the hospital, which didn’t bother me at all, and even though I gave birth on a public holiday (Good Friday) during Level 5 lockdown, everything felt very normal.’

More good news is that while there’s still much to learn about this new virus, no evidence exists to suggest pregnant women are at higher risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 than the general population.

In addition, even if you have COVID-19, it seems there’s no increased risk of miscarriage or having a baby with abnormalities. As Aline Hall, Clinical Quality Specialist: Mother and Child for Mediclinic Southern Africa notes there’s also very little evidence at the moment to suggest you can pass on the virus to your unborn baby – and newborns are usually only mildly affected if they do get coronavirus.

Tests for pregnant women – and preventative measures – are the same as for any other person. ‘All our obstetric units are prepared to look after moms with COVID-19,’ says Hall. ‘If you have a suspected or confirmed infection, it’s advisable to phone the hospital a couple of days prior to your due date to check where you should go on arrival at the facility. Although no visitors are allowed, your partner can accompany you if they’re well and have no symptoms.’

Your coronavirus status should not affect how you give birth, so stick to your birth plan as far as possible. However, a C-section may be necessary if you develop respiratory complications from the infection. Currently, there is no evidence against using pain relief methods such as epidurals or spinal blocks.

If you have the coronavirus when you are labouring, your unborn baby will be carefully monitored throughout to ensure they are coping well. Since these monitors are only available in an obstetric unit in a hospital, homebirths or births where only a midwife is present, are not advised during the pandemic.

‘Strict infection prevention and controls are in place and nursing staff and cleaners will all be wearing masks and visors for all patient care,’ Hall explains. ‘Just as in the community where people are asked to wear cloth masks and social distance, you will be expected to do the same in our hospitals. We also ask that you don’t walk around the ward and mix with other patients.’ 

At delivery if you have COVID-19 and your baby is well and doesn’t require neonatal care, then it’s extremely likely it’ll be handed to you after giving birth and will be able to stay with you while you’re in hospital. Your doctor or healthcare worker should discuss with you the risks and benefits associated with this. New mothers are encouraged to continue normal baby care and bonding if they are well enough to do so. Wearing a cloth mask is recommended when handling your baby.

Breastfeeding is also encouraged, as there’s no evidence that the virus can be passed on through breast milk. However, since the virus is passed on through respiratory droplets, it’s important that you wash your hands before breastfeeding, and that you wear a cloth mask while feeding your baby. If you’re using a breast pump to express breast milk, be sure to wash your hands before touching the pump or the bottles and that you sterilise both after use. Where possible, use a dedicated breast pump if you’re expressing breast milk in hospital.