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Pregnancy, birth and babies during a pandemic

pregnancy and birth during a pandemic
Photo: Pregnancy, birth and babies during a pandemic
Pregnancy and parenting in a crisis like COVID-19 leads to increased anxiety among new and expectant mothers and their partners. But how is the pandemic impacting pregnancy and birth? And how can woman and their partners thrive despite the challenges?

Dr Alex Polyakov, senior obstetrician-gynaecologist and fertility specialist, says the pandemic has heightened anxiety and uncertainly among pregnant women, but it has also impacted pregnancy and birth.

“Pregnant women, just like everyone else, are more stressed and anxious due to the coronavirus restrictions.

“Usual interactions with friends and family members that are so important in our everyday lives are limited and, in some cases, completely ceased. This lack of support affects all of us but is probably more acutely felt by pregnant women.”
As well as heightened anxiety about the risks involved in childbirth, there are also specific disruptions caused by the pandemic that affect pregnant women in unique ways, explains Dr Polyakov.

“In places where quarantine restrictions are in place, antenatal care has become harder and more fragmented.

“Antenatal appointments are not as frequent and are often performed remotely rather than face-to-face, which limits opportunities to detect various pregnancy-related complications.”

Dr Polyakov says a recent study demonstrates an increased risk of stillbirth during the pandemic and the authors hypothesise that this increase is caused by less vigilant antenatal care and decreased frequency of prenatal visits.

Midwife Cath Curtin, who delivers free online antenatal classes for expectant parents, says while high-risk women will continue to see their doctor or midwife face-to-face others can benefit from telehealth.

“It really is the beginning of a new era in pregnancy and parenting classes.

“We’ve had an enormous response to Tummy Talks with close to 10,000 registrations.

“Providing free online classes has given expectant parents safe and healthy access to education from the comfort of their own home. It also gives second- and third-time parents the chance to participate where they normally wouldn’t.

“We’ve quickly become accustomed to telehealth services, and I see this trend remaining even after COVID-19,” says Ms Curtin.

Labour and birth during the pandemic are also presenting challenges as hospitals implement changes to help minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to patients and staff, says Dr Polyakov.

“Some hospitals require both the pregnant woman and her partner to have a COVID-19 test prior to going into labour and to self-isolate until delivery.

“There is anecdotal evidence that some elective and even emergency caesarean deliveries being delayed until the COVID status of the prospective mother and her partner are known.”

A calm labour environment is also compromised for women birthing in hospitals during the pandemic.

“Wider use of personal protective equipment on labour wards may be confronting and can cause additional anxiety,” says Dr Polyakov. 

Post-birth also presents challenges for new parents who want to share the joys (and fears) of bringing a new life into the world.

“Hospitals have restricted the number of visitors and the duration of visits, further limiting the supports available to new mothers.

“All these changes and restrictions have resulted in significantly increased anxiety levels among pregnant women.

“The situation is not helped by the fact that the rules surrounding pregnancy and birth frequently change with minimal notice,” says Dr Polyakov.

But while pandemic restrictions are difficult for new parents, they are an essential measure to protect vulnerable groups, says Ms Curtin.

“New mums are excited to introduce their newborn to family members and friends, but it is advised that social distancing continues to be the best strategy for limiting the risk of cross-infection for pregnant women and their newborn babies.”

Tips on pregnancy during the pandemic

The most critical advice for pregnant women during the pandemic is vigilance with hygiene, maintaining social distancing and limiting unnecessary exposure, says Ms Curtin.

“Practice good hand hygiene by frequently washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, mouth, and nose.

“It is advised to limit gatherings and to stay home as much as possible.

“Social distancing is so important to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.”

Going out for a walk is safe for pregnant women as long as social distancing is maintained between anyone not living in the same household, says Ms Curtin.

“If you feel comfortable, wear a mask in public, especially in places where it’s hard to observe social distancing.

“If you have a mild cough or cold, stay at home and limit exposures to other people.

“Sneeze and cough into a tissue that you discard immediately, or into your elbow, to avoid making others sick.

“And, as always, hydration and adequate rest are important in maintaining the health of your immune system.”

Caring for a newborn during COVID-19

The best way to care for a newborn during the pandemic is to limit visitors by making use of social media and virtual visits, says Ms Curtin.

“No one can resist holding a beautiful new baby!

“Try to limit visits by people who do not share your residence until the COVID-19 pandemic has resolved. And, for those who do, make sure they’re well and limit kisses to baby’s face and hands.

“During this time, social media such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom are the best way to keep in contact so your extended family can see the baby growing. It’s a great way to introduce friends to your baby.”

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.