Expecting parents look forward to meeting their newborns and bonding in those early days of their infant's life, but the coronavirus has changed so much about giving birth in America, and for some mothers, this means they are separated from their babies to protect their infants from COVID-19.
Separating moms and babies is rare—it is only happening in cases where the mother has or is presumed to have COVID-19. We are not telling you this to scare you, mama, but rather to inform you about the way the maternity ward experience has changed in recent days so that you can prepare, protect and advocate for yourself.
The CDC's Interim Considerations for Infection Prevention and Control of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Inpatient Obstetric Healthcare Settings states that in order to "reduce the risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 from the mother to the newborn, facilities should consider temporarily separating (e.g., separate rooms) the mother who has confirmed COVID-19 or is a PUI [person under investigation] from her baby until the mother's transmission-based precautions are discontinued."
That means that when a mom has COVID-19 her doctors or midwives may recommend her baby be cared for in another part of the hospital temporarily.
For Missouri mom Veronica Batton, this meant four days apart from her newborn daughter, Theo. Batton developed a cough late in pregnancy and was tested for COVID-19, but her results were not yet back by the time she went into labor. As KSHB in Kansas City reports, Batton's test eventually came back negative for COVID-19, but not until after she'd been separated from her newborn.
"I saw her and felt her on my chest for like maybe three to five seconds," Batton told KSHB. "And they took her over to get cleaned up and everything, and after that, I didn't see her out of the room and I didn't see her again until [days later]."
Batton was thrilled to finally be reunited with her daughter, but calls the experience "heartbreaking" and hopes that her case can help hospitals determine better practices for keeping moms and babies safe without separating them unnecessarily. The hospital, St. Luke's East, has reportedly already made changes to make testing faster and hospital representatives say delays in testing are unfortunately beyond their control. Batton hopes the different levels of America's health care system can work together to address the delays in processing tests.
"The last day was really, really hard...That was the day I felt like I lost all hope," Batton said, adding that the nursing staff at St. Luke's East Hospital were great.
"They were so kind, they took pictures on their phone and brought it to me. They even used my husband's phone and took it up there so we could FaceTime with her," she explains.
Batton and Theo have been reunited and are at home with Batton's husband and the couple's 5-year-old son, who is finally able to be a big brother. "It feels amazing, like all the stress is gone," Batton told KSHB. "I don't have to wear a mask. I don't have to wear gloves."
Batton is holding her baby now and most moms giving birth in America this week are able to do that sooner than she was. Again, separation of newborns from mothers is not happening without careful consideration.
The CDC says that when it comes to separating a mother and baby due to COVID-19 concerns, the risks and benefits should be explained to the mother and that "if colocation (sometimes referred to as 'rooming in') of the newborn with his/her ill mother in the same hospital room occurs in accordance with the mother's wishes or is unavoidable due to facility limitations, facilities should consider implementing measures to reduce exposure of the newborn to the virus that causes COVID-19."
Basically, separating a baby from their mom is not the only option to protect the baby, depending on the severity of the mother's illness.
If you are concerned about your hospital's practices, discuss this with your doctor or midwife.
If you are healthy now, take care to maintain self-isolation and practice social distancing to avoid COVID-19.
If you do fall ill and your hospital recommends separating you from your baby, know that you are a decision-maker and can advocate for yourself. Ask questions, and if you determine that you should be separated from your child know that you can still pump to provide breast milk. Ask for a pump and frequent updates on your baby.
If you are able to room-in with your baby while recovering from COVID-19, the CDC says it is okay to breastfeed as long as you are wearing a face mask and washing your hands before each feeding.
Again, this is not happening to every woman giving birth, but it is one of the ways in which hospitals are trying to keep babies safe from COVID-19.