Pregnancy During a Pandemic

Louisiana moved into Phase 3 of the Coronavirus pandemic last month, which allows for cautious flexibility and the relaxation of some restrictions. While social distancing and mask wearing remains in place, many social outlets including restaurants and bars are now able to open at a larger capacity. Despite these changes, many restrictions remain in place for a more vulnerable population–pregnant women.

According to Angela Hammett, RN, Woman’s Hospital Pregnancy Nurse Navigator, pregnant women are at a greater risk of severe illness related to COVID-19. “Since pregnancy can weaken the immune system, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that pregnant women may be more at risk than women who are not pregnant.” She continues, “There is also evidence that pregnant women with COVID-19 may be at increased risk of premature labor.”

With this in mind, the doctors and staff at Women’s Hospital have a series of protocols in place to ensure the health and safety of mothers and their new arrivals. Despite the new norms that have been established, patient experiences remain generally positive and families are still being able to participate in this exciting time.


Mom’s Health Matters

Prenatal health is critically important for both mother and baby. While it is still uncertain if COVID-19 is passed from mother to baby, “Babies in the womb are impacted by the overall health of the mom, so it’s important for pregnant women to follow safety precautions and limit their exposure,” says Hammett.

Therefore, Women’s Hospital strongly encourages all pregnant women to attend their prenatal appointments. “It’s very important that all pregnant women continue attending their prenatal visits with their OB-GYN,” says Hammett. Although there are current restrictions in place, women still should be seen.


Visitation Situation

The most notable change at Woman’s Hospital is that visitors are not allowed for regular visits inside the Physician Office Building. 

Local mom, Tina Head, who is expecting her second child, says this is the most challenging part. “Besides having to wear a mask, the hardest part has been not having my husband with me for the anatomy scan,” says Head. “That can be a scary appointment and it’s even more terrifying going into it alone. If you are going to find out unexpected news, you don’t want to have to hear that alone.”

Katie Zylicz, local mom who is expecting her third child, agrees. “I feel very comfortable going to my appointments and I appreciate the focus on safety, but the lack of support at milestone appointments is hard.” Katie’s husband, Matt, expressed the difficulty he felt as an expectant father. “Not being able to be with Katie for the anatomy scan was difficult,” says Matt. “You get a lot of news at that appointment; I felt like she was on her own and that was hard.”

However, for those who are attending appointments at Baton Rouge General, all women can have one visitor (18 years or older only) with them at all regular OB appointments, including weekly checks and anatomy scans. For those who are at the Birth Center of Baton Rouge, all clients and their guests over the age of five are asked to wear a mask. Sonograms are limited to one adult visitor and prenatal visits are limited to two visitors.


Mom-To-Be Education

Another important aspect of new motherhood is education. Women’s Hospital and Baton Rouge General offer a series of classes for new parents including topics such as childbirth, Lamaze, and breastfeeding. In order to maintain social distancing and reduce exposure, classes are currently being offered online.

This new delivery model is not stopping parents from accessing these important resources. “In fact, attendance for these classes has all remained steady throughout the pandemic,” says Hammett. Women’s Hospital staff continue to look for the best ways to support expectant mothers and sees this as a positive. “Many people who would not have been able to attend in-person classes have benefited from the virtual offerings, so this is something we will be considering when developing programs for future years,” continues Hammett.


The Birth Experience

As far as the actual birth experience, there are several protocols in place to keep mother and baby safe and healthy. According to Woman’s Hospital, “The main things that have changed about the birth experience for patients are heightened infection prevention protocols like mask requirements and limited visitation.” Women may now have two support people during delivery. However, the limited visitation may actually turn out to be an unexpected blessing during this  challenging time. The hospital has identified positive outcomes as a result of the change. “We have found that new parents are responding well to the extra bonding time it’s given them to spend with their babies.” Additionally, hospital staff has seen an increase in breastfeeding rates as a result. “During the pandemic, breastfeeding rates have increased by 10 percent as compared to a typical annual increase of 2-4 percent.”

Despite the many changes associated with the pandemic, Katie Zylicz remains focused on the positive. “Of course, we will miss welcoming our friends at the hospital, but limiting visitors may not always be a bad thing, says Zylicz. “It may end up being a more intimate, bonding time after delivery.”


Current Protocols in Place 

Baton Rouge General

Birth Center will allow two visitors during the delivery (significant other and one support).

Postpartum: Only one visitor will be allowed per day.

If the mother is suspected or confirmed COVID, no visitors will be allowed, including significant others.

In the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), only the mother and one visitor will be allowed per day.


Birth Center of Baton Rouge

All clients and their guests over the age of five must wear a mask while in the birth center. Sonograms are limited to one adult visitor and prenatal visits are limited to two visitors. 

They are offering telehealth visits for clients who are showing symptoms, have been exposed, or choose to use telehealth for select visits.

Each client has the choice to invite up to four people into The Birth Center during birth and the postpartum period. Support persons can include a doula and/or photographer.  Visitors will be screened with questions and asked to wear a mask. Clients are not required to wear a mask while in labor. 

Clients are asked to quarantine two weeks prior to birth when possible.


Woman’s Hospital

Visitors are not allowed for regular appointments inside the Physician’s Office Building

All patients and visitors must wear masks.

Vented or valved masks are not allowed.

Health screens will be conducted at all hospital entrances.

All hospital patients are allowed one support person for their entire stay.

Since Louisiana moved to Phase 3, patients may have an extra person during delivery as well.

Only mothers who are symptomatic are being tested for COVID-19.

Only babies born to mothers who are symptomatic or test positive will be tested for COVID-19.