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Childbirth in a pandemic: How hospitals are keeping mothers and babies safe

COVID-19 has forced medical centers to adapt to the new reality as mothers worry about their newborns. Sponsored by Swedish.

SEATTLE — As with just about every other aspect of life, COVID-19 has changed the way expectant mothers give birth.

Along with the usual worries associated with delivering a healthy human, moms and practitioners have to make allowances for the coronavirus. As our knowledge of the disease has grown, guidelines have shifted.

“This has been like drinking from a fire hose – things have been evolving and changing since early on in the pandemic,” said Dr. Tanya Sorensen, the co-director of the Center for Perinatal Studies at Swedish Medical Center and an associate clinical professor of OB-GYN at the University of Washington.

“We were having to sort of invent what we needed to do for our pregnant patients because it hadn't really been done elsewhere,” she said. “One of the things that's been tough for people is that we have changed recommendations over time as we learned more.”

Sorensen said that pregnant patients are understandably worried about contracting the coronavirus and subsequently passing it on to their newborn. So far, however, there is no indication that COVID is transmitted in utero. Babies are vulnerable in the same way everyone else is – via respiratory secretions.

To minimize the risk to newborns, Swedish has implemented a number of precautions. For non-infected patients, visitors to the birthing suites are limited to two people and their movements are restricted; patients believed to be infected are housed in a separate area; and, if a possibly infected mother agrees, babies are isolated at delivery.

“Many people choose not to (isolate their baby), and then what we do is we have procedures in terms of like being extra careful about breastfeeding and cleaning and masking and all those things,” Sorensen said. “We do all the appropriate PPE, including donning and doffing help, and they are allowed to just have one person in the delivery room with them.”

Midwives and doulas are still permitted to be a part of the birth.

“Everyone needs that extra person, and sometimes it's your mom and sometimes it's your aunt or your sister, and in some cultures that's super important,” Sorensen said. “So that is all about both making the experience better, but also I think outcomes are better when the women have that support.”

An unintended benefit to all these changes is that the delivery room is much less chaotic. Fewer people in the room makes for a more peaceful experience.

“I hate to say it, but we do have patients who say, ‘With my first kid we had five people in the room and this is so nice to just have my husband,’ or 'just have my husband and my mom,'” Sorensen said.

For more information about Swedish Medical Center’s childbirth services, visit swedish.org/childbirth.

Sponsored by Swedish. Segment Producer Suzie Wiley. Watch New Day Northwest 11 AM weekdays on KING 5 and streaming live on KING5.com. Contact New Day