Don't start working on an at-home birthing plan just yet.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way life looks for most (if not all) people: Kids are home from school, adults are working from home, many events have been cancelled or postponed. Most of those situations are inconvenient, but not necessarily detrimental—but when hospitals flood and doctors' offices close, medical care is threatened, which can be especially worrisome.
Pregnant women in particular right now seem to have lots of questions regarding the coronavirus outbreak—particularly as it pertains to their prenatal care and delivery options. Expecting families are saddled with worries about their ob-gyn offices closing and whether or not they'll be able to give birth in a hospital. While it's a confusing time for many right now, Health spoke to experts on how to navigate prenatal appointments and potential deliveries in the time of COVID-19.
Will pregnant women need to have at-home deliveries?
This is an easy one: No, you won't have to have your baby at home, Taraneh Shirazian, MD, a gynecologist at NYU Langone and founder of maternal care company Mommy Matters, tells Health. Reports of non-urgent surgeries being postponed might seem scary if your due date is in the coming weeks or months, but you can definitely cross hospital overcrowding off your list of things to worry about if you’re expecting, says Dr. Shirazian.
"Hospitals are looking critically at all types of outpatient services and inpatient and outpatient surgeries—that’s in an effort to look ahead,” she explains. “Pregnancy is considered an urgent service, one that needs to happen. I cannot see a time where pregnancy services would be stopped, where hospitals would turn away pregnant women.” The surgeries that might get postponed right now are elective surgeries that “don’t need to happen in the next three months,” says Dr. Shirazian. Pregnancy, obviously, does not fall into that category.
To that end, you also shouldn't begin changing your birth plan to consider an at-home delivery during the pandemic if you've already decided on giving birth at a hospital. "Women don't need to have a home delivery," says Dr. Shirazian. In fact, changing your mind about where to have your baby right now might be dangerous. “That scenario can result in much more complications that we can’t even foresee,” says Dr. Shirazian. You have to consider what might happen if something goes wrong during an at-home birth and weigh that against the current situation in hospitals around the country, which are still prepared to care for pregnant women.
What happens with prenatal care if ob-gyn offices close?
Another question on the minds of expecting women is what will happen if their ob-gyn's office is affected by the coronavirus outbreak—especially since doctors' offices across the country are trying to limit the number of patients coming in for non-urgent consultations. Some consultations are even being changed from in-person meetings to over-the-phone consultations, which might seem scary if you’re expecting (especially if you’re expecting very soon) and would like to see your doctor in the flesh to ask them last-minute questions.
But converting all appointments that don’t require tests like ultrasounds to over-the-phone meetings will help you stay safe right now. Edward Chien, MD, who works in obstetrics and gynecology at Cleveland Clinic, explains that many pregnancy checkups consist mainly of talking. “There are some time points during pregnancy that often we are mostly answering questions,” says Dr. Chien. Appointments early on in the pregnancy, especially those that follow confirmation of pregnancy, are often just sessions in which doctors make sure you have the answers you need, and there’s no harm in taking care of that over the phone. Dr. Shirazian echoes this, saying that if you have an appointment scheduled but you’re not supposed to have any tests done during the appointment, it might be worth your while to check with your doctor to see if it’s even worth coming in (if you're feeling well) and increasing your risk of exposure to COVID-19 by being in a public space.
That said, if you don’t feel good and think you need to be evaluated, you should definitely go see your doctor. “Contact your doctor. If [your] doctor is out, there will be a covering person,” says Dr. Shirazian. You should not be cancelling necessary checkups because of the current pandemic. “It’s important for patients in the third trimester to get seen,” explains Dr. Chien, adding that doctors need to be closely monitoring pregnant women for potential complications during this time. “Don’t substitute one problem for another,” he says. (But remember, if you're going to the doctor and you think you might have been infected with COVID-19, call your doctor's office ahead of time to let them know that before you show up.)
The bottom line? Hospitals and doctors' offices are still prepared to care for pregnant women. The measures being put in place right now are there so that hospitals will continue to be able to care for pregnant women and others in emergency situations. “The hospitals are trying to slow down in case there’s an onslaught of patients, [but] this is a theoretic onslaught,” explains Kaylen Silverberg, MD, medical director at the Texas Fertility Center. But if your doctor does suggest a remote consult rather than an in-person meeting, don’t panic. Your doctor is only trying to minimize your chances of getting sick if that’s the case. “It’s really about protecting patients,” says Dr. Silverberg.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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