- The loneliness during pregnancy and childbirth in the pandemic has been exacerbated for some moms with COVID-19.
- At hospitals, new COVID-19 policies have meant that moms-to-be couldn’t have their partners, doulas, and other support people by their side during childbirth.
- A recent study has found that most babies born to people who had COVID-19 late in their pregnancies are largely healthy and well by the time they’re 6 to 8 weeks old.
Donna Molina was sick throughout most of her fourth pregnancy. Nausea was the norm after taking prenatal vitamins, and she threw up almost every day.
But, in late March, when the 32-year-old found herself with no sense of taste or smell after a week of headaches, body aches, and a stuffy nose, she knew something was wrong.
A test would soon confirm her suspicion of COVID-19.
Things went downhill — fast. She was rushed to Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey with a 103°F fever, intubated, and induced into a coma for 11 days.
“When I woke up, I was very confused. I had forgotten I was pregnant, and I didn’t know which hospital I was in,” the New Jersey mom says. “A hospital psychiatrist explained that I had delivered a baby girl by emergency C-section at 30 weeks.”
The next day, she got to meet her 3-pound daughter, Harley, in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) via FaceTime.
Molina would not get to hold Harley until May 7 (more than a month after she was born), as she had to test negative for COVID-19 twice and recover from ongoing medical complications.
Despite the ordeal, Molina thinks of herself as lucky. She says she received tons of support from her care team.
According to a recent study, 61 percent of people who had babies during the pandemic feel they received inadequate support for childbirth.
It’s just one of the many ways childbirth has changed this year, especially for people who’ve received a diagnosis of COVID-19 during their pregnancies.
Going through pregnancy and childbirth alone
The threat of COVID-19, along with a lack of consistent guidance from health authorities, left hospitals and obstetric care providers to develop their own strategies for keeping expectant parents and healthcare workers safe.
Early in the pandemic, some providers switched to telehealth for prenatal visits and banned partners, friends, and family from accompanying patients to their in-person appointments.
At hospitals, new policies meant that moms-to-be couldn’t have their partners, doulas, and other support people at their side during childbirth.
“Every single element of that normal support structure is torn down,” she says. “Even the people you’d normally call on to be a support system in the postpartum period can’t be there because of restrictions on travel, stay-at-home orders, and the risk of COVID-19.”
The loneliness and isolation during pregnancy and childbirth in the pandemic have been exacerbated for some moms with COVID-19, such as Kate Glaser, a 32-year-old mom of three in upstate New York.
After she tested positive for the disease during her 39th week of pregnancy, Glaser was no longer allowed to go to her doctor’s office in person for check-ups, and was put on bed rest at home in quarantine. She felt like she had “the flu times 10.”
“It was very isolating,” she says. “I also worried if my husband could be in the delivery room with me. This is our last baby, so there was a lot of worry.”
Wearing a mask, she delivered healthy baby Isla a couple of weeks later with her husband by her side. She was still positive for COVID-19.
Mom guilt and mental health concerns
Mental health issues seem to be on the rise during pregnancy amid the pandemic.
In a recent survey of 885 women who had babies at hospitals across the country between March and July, nearly 34 percent of participants experienced anxiety, up from 20 percent before the pandemic.
The research also showed that depression rates among pregnant women were up to nearly 19 percent, compared with a typical rate of less than 13 percent.
“They don’t know what’s going to happen when they get to the hospital or whether they can or should send their kids to day care or school. A lot of families are also going through financial insecurity because of job losses,” says Dr. Lisa Wynn, OB-GYN and women’s service line chief at UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital in Colorado.
“We’re trying to be proactive with patients about managing the stress from both the world and within their homes,” she adds.
On top of depression and anxiety, many who test positive for COVID-19 during pregnancy can add one more condition to their list of emotional concerns: mom guilt.
“When they told me I was COVID-positive, I collapsed into a chair and sobbed,” Glaser recalls.
She had taken every precaution, from wearing a mask and sanitizing her hands to avoiding social gatherings, but she still felt “incredibly guilty” for her illness potentially putting her baby at risk.
The guilt continued during her quarantine, when she couldn’t see or care for her 3-year-old twins.
And after delivery, when she had to watch the nurses swab the inside of her newborn’s nose to test her for COVID-19 and couldn’t have skin-to-skin contact with her right away.
“You feel guilty for even getting sick,” adds Molina, who also serves as a caregiver for her partner with multiple sclerosis.
Molina and Glaser both delivered their infants relatively early in the pandemic, when there were even more unknowns about how COVID-19 could affect pregnancy.
Since then, a study has found that most babies born to moms who had COVID-19 late in their pregnancies are largely healthy and well by the time they’re 6 to 8 weeks old.
The findings should offer some relief for concerned expectant parents, but research is still ongoing.
Improving childbirth for moms with COVID-19
Now that researchers have gotten a better understanding of COVID-19 and how it spreads, many hospitals have started loosening visitor restrictions and allowing at least one support person during childbirth, in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The World Health Organization also encourages support for moms with COVID-19 to breastfeed, share a room with their baby, and have skin-to-skin contact, according to guidelines last updated Sept. 2.
These policies and recommendations should help give people some peace of mind when they’re planning for childbirth during the pandemic, but doctors say that there’s still a lot of room to improve their experience.
“I think it would be amazing if hospitals invested in in-house doulas who are vetted and tested regularly to give moms support during this particularly challenging time,” Conti says.
In the meantime, social media has been filling in some of the support gaps for pregnant women with COVID-19.
After Glaser shared her COVID-19 childbirth experience on Instagram, she has received messages from moms around the world, all going through the same thing.
“I’ve been helping them through their journey. They want to know if there’s hope at the end of this,” she says.
“As hard as the physical symptoms of the virus were, the emotional symptoms were even worse, and it’s really important to lean on other people who have also gone through it,” Glaser says.