The outbreak of COVID-19 has disrupted most of the world. While schools and events are being cancelled, stay-at-home orders are announced, and toilet paper becomes a scarcity, babies are still being born. Hospitals are also changing their visitation rights, creating uncertainty around an already uncertain event. Expecting families facing these changes have even more to prepare as the help options are limited. Birth workers are making changes in their practices to keep families healthy, safe, and feeling supported. I teamed up with Jackie Symons, a DONA-trained birth doula with Balance in Birth, prenatal fitness instructor, and certified yoga instructor based out of McKinney, Texas, to help address some questions and ease concerns about birthing amidst an epidemic.
- My childbirth classes were cancelled. What can I do to prepare for birth during strict stay-at-home orders?
Jackie: Many have gone virtual–check with your original class to see if they plan to offer a virtual option, or search for another online alternative! You can find shared slides, recorded video and/or audio sessions, and livestream options. A doula can assist you in finding the right class for your particular needs, too. I would also recommend diving into a few good birth books. Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner is thorough and informative. It even has colorful reference pages that you (or, more likely, your partner) can flip back to during labor with quick and easy tips, diagrams, and charts, breaking everything down into bite-sized, practical nuggets you can use on the fly.
- I heard hospitals are restricting visitor access. Is it true that my husband might not even be able to be at my birth?
Jackie: This depends on your hospital, so I would recommend calling or checking their website to get their current policy. Note that many hospitals are modifying their policies often, as the health climate in your area changes, so be sure to check back frequently! From what I’ve heard, most hospitals seem to be allowing one visitor with a laboring mama.
- I really wanted a doula. Should I even bother hiring one?
Jackie: Absolutely! Many doulas, myself included, are offering virtual services via Zoom or FaceTime for your typical prenatal and postpartum meetings and labor support. Via video call, your doula can still model and practice different birth scenarios and labor positions with you and help your partner practice comfort measures that he/she can use while you’re in labor. You’ll also still have her as a resource to call and get insight into pregnancy symptoms and possible remedies, provide you with resources and help you write your birth plan, address questions as they arise, and encourage you to reach out to your provider when needed. In labor, your doula can stay connected and informed over the phone. She’ll be able to suggest comfort measures to your partner and provide emotional support and reassurance. She can also guide you through decision-making processes as needed and help you and your partner navigate any unexpected turns.
- I’m concerned about my family’s exposure at a hospital. Can I just switch to a home birth?
Jackie: Many midwives and birth centers are currently accepting late transfers due to COVID-19, so it’s worth researching and reaching out to those in your area to see if they have availability! Note that not all mamas are candidates for birth center and/or home births. Most will only accept women who’ve had healthy, low-risk pregnancies; reach out to see exactly what criteria you’d need to meet! *PRO TIP: Some insurance companies are now covering birth center and/or home births in light of the virus, so give yours a call to check!
- What about postpartum? Can my family come visit us at home?
Jackie: This is tricky and 100% a personal call. While hosting visitors does not fit within social distancing recommendations, it all depends on your comfort level and your city’s current legislation. When deciding what works for you, I would definitely consider your family’s and your visitors’ risk-level, as well as your visitors’ social distancing history and possible exposure.
- What if I need help with breastfeeding?
Jackie: Most doulas are trained in breastfeeding support, so if you’ve hired one, she can likely help you virtually via video call (or refer you to a lactation consultant if your needs are out of her scope). You can also search for lactation consultants in your area. Check for IBCLC in their credentials to be sure they’re certified! Depending on your city’s legislation and your lactation consultant’s policies, she may be able to meet you at your home or virtually. You can always refer questions to your provider or your child’s pediatrician, too. Many have helpful advice to offer, whether it be from formal breastfeeding education training, personal experience, or both!
Always remember that no birthing parent is alone, global health crisis or not. There are so many professionals to help guide you, family and friends to be there (virtually) for support, and moms around the world facing this tough situation, too. We can navigate this together.