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Pregnant Women Could Give Birth In Hospitals Filled With COVID-19 Patients

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So we are hearing so many stories about hospitals in this country that are simply overwhelmed by coronavirus cases. And there are, of course, patients with other urgent needs - pregnant women, for example, who now face the possibility of delivering babies in hospitals that are filled with COVID-19 patients. And the plans that they have made for where to give birth and who will be with them, those are all now in question. Here's NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer.

SACHA PFEIFFER, BYLINE: At Lauren and Daniel Herriges' house in Sarasota, Fla., they've been doing some redecorating.

LAUREN HERRIGES: This was our old office. And now it's our nursery. So we have our changing table and our crib, a little dresser and all the cute art we could find laying around (laughter).

PFEIFFER: They're getting ready for their first child, a daughter, due April 3. For assistance during childbirth, they hired a doula, a support person who helps laboring women. But they recently got crushing news. To reduce the risk of coronavirus, Sarasota Memorial Hospital is limiting delivery room visitors to just one person.

HERRIGES: So that's a bit gut-wrenching because I like my doula and wouldn't have gotten one if I didn't think it would be very helpful.

PFEIFFER: Then Herriges got an even more startling update.

HERRIGES: That I should be prepared to not be permitted to have any support person at all, so no husband, which has really kind of rocked my world.

PFEIFFER: So Herriges is now considering being induced early, but her doctor says it's safer to wait. That's left her with a dilemma. Go to a different hospital with an unfamiliar doctor?

HERRIGES: Or do we suck it up and stick with the same practitioner I've been with for years but then maybe not have my husband? That's one we're still kind of trying to figure out. And we're running out of time (laughter).

PFEIFFER: Many pregnant women are having similar debates and wondering how else the disease could affect their babies. Limited research suggests COVID-19 cannot be transmitted during childbirth or breastfeeding. There also doesn't seem to be evidence you're more likely to get the virus if you're pregnant. Still, the preliminary studies are sometimes conflicting. And pregnant women are considered an at-risk population for COVID-19 because they're generally at higher risk for respiratory infections, so numerous hospitals nationwide told NPR they're minimizing childbirth visitors and doing more prenatal visits by phone, as recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The organization is not advising early deliveries solely due to the coronavirus, but in Minnesota, the M Fairview Health system is offering that option to some women at least 39 weeks pregnant.

LAURA FRANCE: To try to have women come in and be delivered and go home again before we really started to see a surge of COVID-positive women in our maternity units.

PFEIFFER: Dr. Laura France is an OB-GYN at Fairview. She said some worried pregnant women are debating whether to give birth at home or in a birthing center. But she considers hospitals safer, even if visitors will be limited.

FRANCE: This is really a time to let technology be your friend. One of the patients up on the maternity unit today is Skyping with her doula. And that's been a big push with a lot of the doulas.

SARAH LASKOW: (Laughter) Here she is. She's asleep. Oh, no. She's not asleep. Oh (laughter), she spit up a little bit.

PFEIFFER: Sarah Laskow is checking on her newborn at home in Brooklyn. Seven-pound, 7-ounce Miriam Louise was born March 22 at NYU Langone in Manhattan.

LASKOW: While I was having contractions, we were seeing all these emails of other frantic parents-to-be, who, all of a sudden, had to deal with the fact that they probably were going to have to deliver the baby alone.

PFEIFFER: That's because some New York hospitals told pregnant women they couldn't have any support person during childbirth. Laskow's husband was with her, and the state has since prohibited that policy. As they now shelter in place in Brooklyn, Laskow and her husband feel lucky.

LASKOW: We're, like, kind of convinced that she's maybe a little bit psychic 'cause she came right on time.

PFEIFFER: Actually, their baby wasn't on time. She was born two weeks early.

LASKOW: Well, she came right on time for the circumstances that she was born into.

PFEIFFER: Sacha Pfeiffer, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.