Giving Birth with COVID-19: Doctors Scramble to Save a Mother and Her Unborn Child

Thousands of women across the country are being forced to give birth in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak. As if having a baby during a pandemic isn’t stressful enough, these women must also think about potentially exposing themselves and their newborn babies to the virus. Some pregnant women are being treated for COVID-19 at the same time, further complicating the situation. Cut off from their loved ones, many pregnant women are also choosing to give birth at home to prevent the spread of the virus.

For one Brooklyn maternity ward, doctors had to choose between performing an emergency cesarean section and potentially endangering the life of the mother and that of her unborn child.

A Crucial Choice for One Brooklyn Maternity Ward

A recent story in the New York Times highlights how stressful delivering a baby during the pandemic can be. New York City has become the epicenter of the outbreak in recent weeks, and local hospitals are quickly reaching capacity as the virus continues to spread. This means there’s less room for patients seeking non-virus care, including expectant mothers.

Two weeks ago, a 31-year-old woman named Precious Anderson was being treated at the Brooklyn Hospital Center for COVID-19 symptoms. She was one of three critically ill expectant mothers at the facility. The obstetrics unit at the facility has delivered around 200 newborn babies since the beginning of March, including 29 mothers who were also being treated for COVID-19.

Anderson’s health was failing fast as the virus ravaged her lungs. She arrived at the facility just a day prior, complaining of shortness of breath and respiratory issues. Doctors decided that neither the mother nor her unborn child were getting enough oxygen, so they chose to perform an emergency C-section, even though it was two months before the due date and the surgery would likely be a stressor for the mother.

But doctors were quickly running out of alternatives.

In the end, the C-section was a success. Anderson gave birth to a baby boy, weighing 3.7 pounds. After the procedure, the baby could not breathe well on his own, so doctors put him on a ventilator. Anderson remained in the ICU, also on a ventilator, where her condition continued to deteriorate. Doctors eventually got approval to give Anderson the experimental drug known as Remdesivir, and her condition rapidly improved.

Doctors soon informed Anderson that she had given birth to a beautiful boy and his condition was improving. They connected her to the neonatal ICU using live video, so she could see how her baby was recovering. The child opened his eyes on camera and Anderson could finally say hello to her son.

What It’s Like to Give Birth During the Pandemic

If you, someone you know, or one of your patients is about to have a baby, here’s what you need to know about giving birth during the pandemic:

  • Are pregnant women more at risk?

According to the CDC, it’s not known whether pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19, but recent data shows they are just as susceptible to the virus as non-pregnant adults. However, the CDC does point out that pregnant women may undergo changes in their bodies that can increase their risk of some infections. Pregnant people also tend to have a higher risk of severe illness when infected with viruses from the same family as COVID-19 and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza.

If pregnant women suffering from the virus delay care, they could become dangerously ill, endangering their own life and that of their child.

  • Can the mother spread the virus to her baby?

The CDC says mother-to-child transmission of the virus is unlikely. It’s also unlikely that it can spread through breastmilk, but newborns can be just as susceptible to person-to-person spread as other individuals, so social distancing may be required in some cases. New mothers are being encouraged to wear face masks and gowns and wash their hands often when having contact with their newborn.

  • How are some women reacting?

Care providers have noted that even healthy pregnant women are nervous about their health and that of their unborn children. Obstetricians say many women do not feel the happiness and joy they would normally feel in such a situation.

  • Should women give birth at home?

Some women are choosing to stay at home, even though the CDC maintains that it’s best to give birth at a hospital, despite the coronavirus. Around 1% of births take place at home in the U.S., but anecdotal evidence shows more women are exploring this option during the pandemic.

If you decide to give birth at home, it’s best to facilitate a planned birth. Make sure you have a midwife or nurse on hand to help you through this time.

  • Do mothers have to give birth alone?

Many women are also concerned about having to give birth alone or being separated from their newborns. In some cases, the mother may be kept apart from her newborn for several days, especially if they are experiencing various health complications. However, many facilities are doing their best to keep mothers and babies together during this time.

Giving birth during a pandemic may be stressful, but providers are trying to make the best of this difficult situation.

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