Are Hospital Births Safe During the Coronavirus Outbreak?

Originally Published March 12, 2020 on Pregnancy | By Korin Miller

If you’re pregnant, you may be wondering about the safety of hospital births during the coronavirus outbreak. Here’s what experts are saying.

It’s hard to do anything right now without hearing or reading about the coronavirus, also referred to as novel coronavirus or COVID-19. To date, there are more than 1,200 cases of the virus in the U.S., and it continues to spread across the country.

If you’re due to give birth soon, you may be wondering: Is it safe to give birth in a hospital right now? Here’s everything pregnant women need to know, plus how to be prepared in case things don’t go 100 percent according to plan.

Should pregnant women be concerned about giving birth in a hospital right now?

Yes, people with severe cases of the coronavirus go to the hospital, but most hospitals have protocols in place to help identify people with coronavirus-like symptoms and quarantine them from everyone else, says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Because of that, Dr. Adalja says you should be just fine to continue your plans for a hospital birth. “I would not be concerned,” he says.

Rajeev Fernando, M.D., an infectious disease expert in Southampton, New York and member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board, agrees, “as long as you can verify that the hospital is adhering to the infection control policies.”

Still, Dr. Fernando says it’s important for you to do your best to keep yourself safe, too. That includes following good hand hygiene and wiping down surfaces you’ll come into contact with (like hospital bed railings), he says. Many hospitals ask pregnant patients to check in in the emergency room, so it’s also a good idea to do your best to steer clear of people who are coughing and sneezing while you wait for a room, he says.

Also, don’t be afraid to be your own advocate. “If a hospital worker is coughing or sneezing and poses a risk for spreading unwanted germs, you can speak to a nurse manager to report concerns,” says Sherry A. Ross, M.D., an OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

How can pregnant women and new moms keep themselves safe at the doctor’s office?

Again, practicing good hand hygiene and steering clear of sick people is key, Dr. Adalja says. If you have access to hand sanitizer, or if your doctor’s office provides it (most do), use it after you touch commonly used surfaces, like seat armrests in the waiting room.

If you have your baby with you, try to keep him close to you and turned away from others to discourage unwanted contact from strangers.

Keep in mind that many doctor’s offices are doing their best to keep you and your baby safe there, too. “Most doctor’s offices have some kind of social distancing in place for people with symptoms of coronavirus, like having them use masks and keeping those patients in separate waiting rooms,” Dr. Adalja says. “Remember that the virus is passed on through coughs and sneezes. As long as you’re more than six feet away from a sick person and practicing good hand hygiene, you’re going to be OK.”

If you’re considering a home birth, what do you need to know?

Home birth can be a polarizing subject. These days, 99 percent of babies are born in hospitals or birthing centers, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says those are the safest places to give birth. Still, other medical professionals, like the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), say that if you’re considered low risk and have taken the necessary preparations, a home birth can be a safe alternative to a hospital birth.

The best practices for having a home birth are the same as they’ve always been. You should have a midwife or physician attend your home birth, as well as have transportation available to take you to a nearby hospital in case of an emergency.

“If you are considering a home birth, it would be wise to make sure your health care provider continues to take all necessary precautions to keep you safe from potential exposure and then to carry on as normal,” says women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D. It’s also a good idea to lower the number of visitors to your home during your pregnancy, she says, especially anyone who has traveled.

Even if you’re not considering a home birth, are there any essential supplies to have on hand, just in case?

If you want to have a hospital birth, you should be able to do just that, says Dr. Adalja. Still, it may put your mind at ease to keep some supplies at home, just in case. 

Those include cleaning agents that can help keep your home “as sterile as possible,” particularly in the area where you’ll give birth, Dr. Wider says. “Wipe down surfaces and, if you have other children, make sure they are washing their hands religiously after coming home from school.”

As for supplies you may need if you have an unplanned home birth, talk to your practitioner. They should be able to offer individual recommendations for you.

How can you prepare with your doctor or midwife in case they become sick?

Talk to your practitioner about this during your next visit. Many OB/GYN and midwife practices have several healthcare providers who can and do fill in for each other on different days, including when someone gets sick.

Still, your provider may have plans to see patients via Skype if they get sick, Dr. Wider says. Either way, it’s important to have that conversation.

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