Pregnancy can be a stressful time for parents mentally, financially, and physically, but what happens if the whole world is in disarray during a global pandemic? Following the disruption of Covid-19, people have had to adapt to new ways of life and practise unfamiliar social and health guidelines.
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Expecting parents have had to face new challenges in regards to their physical, financial, and mental well-being. Having a baby is usually a time to be celebrated with family and friends, but there are concerns surrounding the preparation for the baby and the infant’s care in dark times like these.
To be able to deal with these concerns, it is helpful to have all the facts that have been provided by medical specialists, and, if you need more information, consult with your healthcare provider regarding the health and safety of mother and baby.
BEFORE YOUR BABY ARRIVES
The Health and Safety Executive, or HSE, reassures that the team caring for you has to make sure that you are involved in all of the decisions. If you have any concerns about the pregnancy, you should phone your hospital for advice as maternity hospitals have open helplines. However, if there is any concern about the baby’s movement, you should go to the hospital and speak with a professional.
Some may worry attending the hospital or doctor’s appointments during the pandemic. However, experts stress that it’s still very important that moms-to-be continue to receive prenatal care.
There have been many changes made to their services during the pandemic to protect patients. The appointments are now spaced out, visits have been condensed to limit the amount of time you’re in the office, and everything is disinfected frequently. Certain consultations are offered over the phone instead of in-person visits.
Advice for staying safe when at doctor’s appointments or at the hospital:
- Practice good hand hygiene
- Maintain a distance of 2 metres from others and try to avoid people who appear ill
- Avoid touching surfaces and then touching your face with unwashed hands
- Always wear a mask in public at all times
In spite of the pandemic, it is important to prepare for the arrival of your baby as normal. It is necessary to keep meeting with your doctor for examinations, blood tests, and ultrasound scans. At this time, you may have to go to these visits or scans on your own to reduce the number of people in the hospital.
Childbirth education classes are encouraged online, and some of the most important topics covered in these classes include:
- Understanding Birth
- Understanding Breastfeeding
- Understanding Multiples
- Understanding Your Newborn
The HSE recommends talking to your GP, midwife, or public health nurse about finding information to help you prepare for having a baby and becoming a parent. This might be the hospital website and leaflets, the HSE website and the My Pregnancy book. You will get this book during your first appointment at the hospital.
Most formal antenatal classes start when you are between 26 to 32 weeks pregnant. The HSE recommends looking into online courses if your antenatal classes have been canceled. These include videos about pregnancy, labour and caring for a newborn (University Hospital Kerry), online courses (National Maternity Hospital), and learning hubs (Rotunda Hospital).
There are virtual tours of some maternity units and hospitals. It is recommended to check with your maternity unit or hospital about online resources that may be available.
Classes are participant-led, which means that the pace of the class is decided by its members, who also have a say in which topics are discussed. If you are expecting twins, it is recommended to start antenatal education early as your babies may arrive sooner than expected.
Foetal Anatomy Scan- 20-Week Scan
The foetal anatomy scan usually happens between 18 to 22 weeks of pregnancy and can determine any anamolies in the foetus, as well as the sex of your baby. Considering the importance of this scan, partners are usually allowed to attend.
However, this policy can change any time and depends on the hospital and current Government restrictions. It is recommended to check with them in advance. If they cannot accommodate your partner, they will let you know why.
BEFORE THE BIRTH, IF YOU HAVE COVID-19
If you are worried about contracting COVID-19 while being pregnant, you can be assured that your healthcare team will take extra precautions if you do. This will be before, during, and after labour. Your obstetrician or midwife will talk to you about the safest way and time for your baby to be born.
Other specialists may also be involved in your care, such as a doctor who specialises in infectious diseases, and a neonatologist, who specialises in the care of newborn babies.
You may be in an isolation room with en-suite facilities during labour and may need to stay in this room throughout your hospital stay.
DURING BIRTH AND LABOUR
In most cases, your partner can be present during labour for the delivery, and every effort is made to ensure that they will be. However, some hospitals may not allow this and it is important to look into this beforehand. Any restrictions in place are to keep everyone safe.
If your partner can be there, they will need to wear protective equipment to minimise the risk of infection. However, the women can be assured that they will not have to wear a face mask during labour and birth. A surgical mask is required when you’re outside your room.
AFTER THE BIRTH
Visitors in Hospital
All maternity units now have a strict no-visitor policy. All restrictions that are in place are for the safety of the mother and the baby and will be lifted as soon as possible.
Early Transfer Home
Due to the restrictions placed on hospital visits, many women are choosing to go home early. Some hospitals offer phone support from postnatal midwives and, where it is available, community midwives are doing home visits.
CARING FOR YOUR BABY, IF YOU HAVE COVID-19
If you have Covid-19 and choose to care for your baby after the birth, your doctor or midwife will explain the risk.
The mother and baby will have to be isolated in a single room with an en-suite bathroom. The baby will be in an enclosed incubator, which is a special crib made of plastic that keeps your baby warm.
When your baby is outside the incubator, you should:
- Wear a long-sleeved gown and surgical mask
- Clean your hands properly and often with soap and water or alcohol rub – before and after interacting with your baby
The healthcare team will constantly observe your baby for any signs of infection. This will be for at least 14 days after the last contact with you. If your baby develops any signs of infection, they will need to be tested.
It is important to know that there is treatment for mental health problems, as well as physical problems, for expecting parents. 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems in and after pregnancy, with depression and anxiety being the most common. Perinatal mental health services are for any woman with mental health problems who is planning pregnancy, is currently pregnant, or has a baby up to one year old.
In Ireland, there are 19 maternity services and, in each hospital group, the maternity service with the highest number of deliveries is the designated hub. In the smaller maternity services, mental health midwives work with mental health teams. It is possible to ask your GP, midwife, mental health midwife, public health nurse, or psychiatrist if they can refer you to a perinatal mental health service.
The contact details for Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service in hub hospitals are:
- National Maternity Hospital
- Rotunda Hospital
- Coombe Women & Infants University Maternity Hospital
- University Maternity Hospital Limerick
- Cork University Maternity Hospital
- Galway University Hospital
Having a baby can be an overwhelming experience, and the Covid-19 pandemic has definitely put parents up to new challenges. However, they can be reassured that healthcare institutions and doctors have established guidelines to ensure the safety of the mother and baby. They will continue to provide the best prenatal care possible during the pandemic.
In the digital age parents are given many alternatives that can help them prepare for the birth of the baby online and in the safety of their own home. There is a lot of help for expecting parents but it is important to research every decision to avoid disappointment due to the new regulations in place because of Covid.
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