Beyond the customary worries affecting pregnant women and soon-to-be-mothers, women in the U.S. are facing yet another cause for catastrophic concern: giving birth in a hospital crowded with Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients. Fears have skyrocketed as those soon to deliver their babies are plagued by the reality that they may be treated by a doctor or medical professional who has been exposed to the virus and may run the risk of contracting the virus while in the hospital giving birth. For pregnant and breastfeeding women, lack of knowledge and understanding about COVID-19 in the medical community provides little to assuage fears about the potential for passing the virus to a fetus or newborn. Beyond the medical concerns of pregnant and breastfeeding women as this pandemic scourges the international community, women in some hospitals may now be forced to deliver alone. In fact, several New York hospitals have banned spouses and partners from delivery rooms, leaving devastated women to endure labor and delivery without the support of their loved ones.
Whether you are pregnant with your first child or fourth, pregnancy is a time of great anticipation, both joyful and anxious. Naturally, you worry about labor and delivery, your health, and the health of your baby. Being pregnant or soon to give birth, you undoubtedly rely on your healthcare providers to keep you safe when you’re most vulnerable. Amidst the Coronavirus outbreak, it is all the more essential for hospitals, nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals to prioritize your health and the safety of your baby.
Unique Challenges Affecting Pregnant Women Amidst Coronavirus Outbreak
Pregnant women face unique challenges in the face of the current pandemic, COVID-19. Potential concerns are vast and varied for those at every stage of the process, from pregnancy, to childbirth, to breastfeeding. First, women must now reconsider their birth plans and every action they take that may affect their unborn children. If delivering in the hospital, family visitors and support may be restricted from being in the room. While protective protocols are in place—hand washing, distancing, and sequestration—so much is still unknown about the novel COVID-19 virus. Is it possible to keep pregnant women safe from the virus even with the strictest adherence to hospital protective practices and guidelines? Beyond these issues, childcare may present a significant problem. With the outbreak threatening older adults and those with immune-compromising medical conditions, no one may be available to care for other children while a woman gives birth. For single mothers, this is an especially grave reality.
Although alternative birth centers and home births with midwives may appear to alleviate fears about the contagion at hospitals, the limited number of midwives certainly cannot accommodate all who turn to hospital alternatives. As for pregnancies destined for cesarean sections (C-section) and those in high risk categories, such as older women and women with medical conditions that potentially endanger mother and child, there may be no alternative to the hospital. Most women give birth in hospitals and frequently visit their doctor’s offices for regular tests and monitoring. Should a pregnant woman go to her regular doctor’s visits, and if so, how can she rest-assured that her doctor or another person in the immediate vicinity is not affected by COVID-19? Will the doctor even see patients as is typically done, often monthly?
COVID-19 Potential for Transmission during Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Pregnancy taxes women’s immune systems, so keeping away from sick people and large crowds makes sense, especially because viruses are linked to pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage, premature delivery and birth defects. And while there is currently no direct or analytical evidence to suggest that COVID-19 penetrates the placenta or breast milk to infect the fetus, the novelty of the virus isn’t reassuring to pregnant women fearful of contracting it and harming their babies. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not currently have particular guidance as it relates to breastfeeding among women affected by other corona family viruses, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
The CDC acknowledges that, generally, pregnant women are at greater risk for infection and viruses than the general population. They also confirm that pregnant women can become extremely ill from viruses like COVID-19, influenza and similar respiratory ailments that make them more susceptible to pneumonia. What they do not know is the potential for transference from an infected mother to her newborn. Available data and research confirm that COVID-19 spreads like any flu illness, typically through infected cough or sneeze droplets. However, specific guidelines on breastfeeding while infected has yet to be forthcoming. The CDC recommends pregnant women wash their hands and use breast pumps to keep from contaminating their infants.
Prevention Strategies for Limiting Coronavirus Contraction and Spread
Universally, the best prevention for everyone, pregnant or not, is avoiding sick people, avoiding large crowds, keeping a six-foot distance from others, frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or with hand sanitizers if on the go, refraining from touching your face, disinfecting surfaces you touch, and staying home if you are sick. Pregnant women working in medical facilities or other sites where exposure to the virus is high, should consider staying away if possible. All pregnant women might take advantage of telemedicine if available, or other virtual options. However, when it comes time to deliver, the hospital may be unavoidable for many women.
With this in mind, how can hospital staff keep pregnant women safe as the Coronavirus pervades cities and states across America? After all, hospital staff treat other patients who may be infected with the virus. And with the evolving guidelines, reported shortages of critical supplies like face masks, gloves, gowns and ventilators, women now more than ever depend on healthcare workers to exercise extraordinary care and diligence in not only their own hygienic practices, but those entering hospitals. Clearly, this is a daunting task that may not always be successful. However, special attention and care should be paid to pregnant women and those giving birth, whenever these patients enter the hospital. After all, not one, but two lives are hanging in the balance.
Legal Options for Pregnant Women Who Contract Viruses due to Negligent Medical Care in NJ
If you have questions about your legal options if you contracted a virus or infection while pregnant or giving birth in the hospital or a medical practitioner’s office, our experienced medical malpractice attorneys in New Jersey are available anytime to provide you with more information. You can reach us online or by calling 866-708-8617 for a free consultation.