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How can pregnant women prepare for childbirth during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The pandemic can be a major source of daily stress for women who are currently pregnant.

Jessica Levy, for Saint Joseph Mercy Health System
For pregnant women in Michigan and around the world, the current COVID-19 pandemic is presenting mothers-to-be with even greater challenges than usual.

Both physically and mentally, pregnancy is challenging even under the best of circumstances. For pregnant women in Michigan and around the world, the current COVID-19 pandemic is presenting mothers-to-be with even greater challenges than usual.

Catherine Winslow, MD, FACOG, on staff at Westside OB/GYN, a St. Joe’s Medical Group practice, offered her thoughts about some of the ways that pregnant women can manage their concerns and prepare to give birth during this unprecedented time.

Protect Yourself Physically

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) no longer classifies pregnant women as an at-risk population, it is a fact that changes in their bodies may increase their risk of developing some infections. According to the CDC, it has been found that pregnant women have had a higher risk of severe illness when they were infected with viruses from the same family as COVID-19 and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza. With this in mind, it’s important for pregnant women to take extra precautions to protect themselves.

“If they can work from home, they should work from home,” Dr. Winslow said. “They should also avoid crowds, and abide by all of the CDC guidelines as far as staying at home unless for essential travel, and practicing social distancing, keeping at least 6 feet between yourself and others when in public.”

While staying home from work is ideal, it may not be possible for those who are on the front lines in essential occupations. In these cases, Dr. Winslow recommends that employees talk to their employer to ensure the work place is in compliance with CDC and local public health guidelines.  

Attend your prenatal appointments safely

Pregnant women should check in with their own doctor before attending their next appointment.

To keep women safe without sacrificing high-level prenatal care, doctors are taking precautionary measures to balance the need to see a doctor with the need to be safe. Specific guidelines will vary by practice, and pregnant women should check in with their own doctor before attending their next appointment.

“In my practice, we are still seeing pregnant women for prenatal visits, but we are reducing the number of visits as long as [the patient is] low-risk and it makes sense to do so. We’re also screening everybody for respiratory symptoms and fever before they come in the door,” Dr. Winslow said.

In addition to spacing out visits and implementing screening measures, Dr. Winslow noted that her practice has launched video appointments, using innovation and technology to keep women out of harm’s way. 

Be kind to yourself emotionally

Bonding with family, when possible, may reduce stress.

While many of the official health guidelines regarding COVID-19 and pregnancy focus on physical protections, living with the day-to-day stress of the pandemic while pregnant can also cause major emotional upheaval. If you’re pregnant and are having trouble processing your emotions, you’re not alone.

“In general, I’ve seen stress and worry, which is to be expected,” said Dr. Winslow. “Pregnancy can be a time of uncertainty already, and then you add in something like this, that’s so unexpected.”

Dr. Winslow offered several suggestions to help people handle the stress, including keeping a regular schedule, getting plenty of sleep, exercising and trying to get fresh air every day. She also recommended maintaining connections with friends and family from a distance, although warned against spending too much time on social media.

“Everything on social media is about COVID right now, and that can make the anxiety worse.”

Understand how COVID-19 will affect the birthing process

At Saint Joseph Mercy Health System hospitals, women can still have a support person accompany them during the birth as long as that person is healthy. Dr. Winslow additionally said that there are currently no plans to change those policies, noting that medical professionals are fully aware of how important it is for women to have support during the birthing process.

While that may come as a relief for women that worry about delivering alone, it can also be disappointing to those who had hoped to bring in additional support people like a mother or a close friend.

While some women are now reportedly considering home births, Dr. Winslow stressed that the hospital is still “absolutely” the safest place to give birth, especially given the extensive precautions in place.

“The risks of having a complication at home and not having immediate medical attention are much higher than the risk of catching the coronavirus at the hospital,” she said.

Keep up with current information

St. Joe’s patients can stay current with comprehensive information on COVID-19 on the health system's dedicated Coronavirus/COVID-19 page.

Since the situation is changing so quickly, it’s important for pregnant women to keep up with the latest guidelines. However, it’s also important to stick to reputable sources.

St. Joe’s patients can start by viewing comprehensive information on COVID-19 as well as relevant local updates on St. Joe’s dedicated Coronavirus/COVID-19 page. Since the website also includes hospital-specific information including visitor policies and designated contact numbers, it can be especially useful. 

For additional information, Dr. Winslow recommended that pregnant women turn to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While keeping up with the most current information, take comfort in the fact that medical professionals are working around the clock and doing everything they can to get patients through this process safely.

“This is such an important time in a woman’s life, and a couple’s life. We want to make it the best possible experience,” Dr. Winslow said.

The St. Joe’s Medical Group is continuing to serve patients during the COVID-19 crisis and appreciates the outpouring of community support. Saint Joseph Mercy Health System is also accepting donations from the community at donation centers at each one of their five hospital locations. For more information, visit stjoeshealth.org.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
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