Credit: Christian Bowen, Unsplash
Editor's note: This article was sponsored by Overlake Medical Center.
While childbirth during COVID-19 means dealing with things like masks, tests and visitor restrictions, it may also offer an unexpected perk or two. Just ask first-time parents Stephán and Cheyenne Gray of Bothell, who welcomed their daughter, Octavia, this September at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue.
“This is our first birth, so we didn’t have anything to compare it to,” says Cheyenne. “But everyone worked hard to accommodate us and make everything seem as normal as possible.”
Hospital policies for safety during COVID-19 continue to flex as recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evolve, notes Julie Crews, R.N., nurse manager of Overlake’s Mother & Baby Unit. “But especially for a new parent having their first baby during COVID, none of the changes will seem too out of the ordinary.”
By early spring 2021, Overlake’s Mother & Baby Unit will feature upsized childbirth and recovery rooms — some nearly 90 percent larger — along with new features for parents and infants in need of special care, including an antepartum unit, additional NICU beds and rooms designed to accommodate newborn twins. Whether expectant parents deliver in Overlake’s existing space or the newly expanded unit, they shouldn’t expect any hitches other than the extra precautionary measures during COVID-19, says Crews.
“Overall, people have been happy with their experiences giving birth during the pandemic,” says Crews. “People are surprised by how normal it feels.” Here’s more about what to expect in new parenthood’s new normal.
Childbirth, breastfeeding and labor classes are still available.
Expectant parents with lots of questions, take heart: The pandemic hasn’t halted childbirth education. In fact, it’s now more accessible than ever thanks to online classes they can take from home. “Childbirth classes, newborn care classes and breastfeeding classes have transitioned to virtual classes,” says Crews. “Even postpartum support groups with other parents are available from the comfort of home. It’s a great resource for our patients, with all the restrictions on gathering with COVID.” (Find Overlake’s childbirth prep, breastfeeding and labor-coping skills classes online.)
Your labor at a hospital or birth center will include a COVID-19 test.
Although recommendations are continually evolving and can vary by location, count on taking a COVID-19 test at your hospital or birth center. The test, a quick nasal swab, isn’t painful or invasive. You may need to remain masked until the test results are available, which doesn’t take long. “We had our COVID test results within about 40 minutes,” says Cheyenne.
You may not need to wear a mask during your entire stay.
Depending on the results of your COVID-19 test and any rules specific to your area, masks may not be required during labor or recovery. (Ask your provider to be sure.) “Our staff, including me, wears masks through our shifts,” says Crews. “But for patients, there are consistently evolving recommendations around masking. Right now, people who live in the same household do not need to mask when they are recovering. If you do need a mask, we provide one.”
Cheyenne was nervous about the idea of laboring, particularly pushing, with a mask on. But after her COVID test came back negative, she was allowed to labor without a mask in her delivery room, she says. “We did discuss it with my OB, Dr. Guillet, beforehand, because that was a concern. But it ended up being fine.”
Visitation rules are different before, during and after labor.
Baby’s birthday bash will have to wait: Visitation during and after labor is strictly limited during COVID-19. That doesn’t mean you’ll labor alone, though. “We currently have limited visitors in our childbirth center in order to really keep the moms and babies safe,” says Crews. “In Labor & Delivery, we allow two support people in addition to a certified doula. In our recovery area, we allow one person who can stay with the mom the entire time. We also don’t allow anyone under 16 on the campus right now.”
Visitor restrictions meant Cheyenne’s mother and mother-in-law had to wait a little longer to see their new granddaughter, says Cheyenne. “Originally, I’d planned on having my mom and mother-in-law in the room with me, and our families at least wanted to be able to be in the waiting room, but that wasn’t able to happen.”
Ask about any guidelines related to your birth plan.
Whether you have a beautifully written birth plan or just a vague idea of your preferences, talk through your ideal birth scenario with your partner, provider and doula in advance. Your provider can let you know if something you’re planning is affected by pandemic-related regulations; those planning an active labor should know that they’ll need to mask up before walking the hospital halls, for example.
“We wanted to go out and walk the halls during labor, but didn’t know if that was an option for us. We also wanted Stephán to catch Octavia, and we asked about that, too,” says Cheyenne. She was glad they asked, because delivering Octavia into her father’s arms was one of the highlights of the birth.
“It’s important to voice your questions and concerns so you feel really prepared,” adds Stephán.
Social distancing can be blissful.
With strict visitor restrictions in most childbirth recovery units, your post-birth stay will be peaceful. You might miss the visitors — or not. Most new parents find they enjoy the extra peace and quiet before heading home, notes Crews. “Fewer visitors can actually be a silver lining for some new parents!”
“There were a lot of family members who would have been there if they could have been,” says Cheyenne. “But really, it was kind of nice to get into the flow of things on our own first.”