Pregnancy and labour during a pandemic

Moms-to-be are stressed out and scared.

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Most pregnant women look forward to their 9-month journey. They are excited, glowing and look forward to the joy of bringing new life into the world. But, for anyone who has fallen pregnant in the last few months, the pregnancy journey has been scary, stressful and wracked with questions.

Fear of the unknown

For many women who may face chronic illnesses such as gestational diabetes, treatments are available and there are enough research for moms-to-be to find solutions for what they may be facing. With coronavirus, there is the fear of the unknown. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that research is currently underway to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on pregnant women. However, this doesn’t give pregnant women much relief.

Additionally, pregnant women may be subject to conflicting information. The United Kingdom recently added pregnant women to their ” vulnerable” group, meaning they are advised to follow the guidance here. But many pregnant women may be asking why?

The WHO reports that due to changes in their bodies and immune systems, pregnant women can be badly affected by some respiratory infections. It is therefore important that they take precautions to protect themselves against COVID-19, and report possible symptoms (including fever, cough or difficulty breathing) to their healthcare provider.

The WHO says it will continue to review and update its information and advice as more evidence becomes available.

This week, however, reports from the United States confirmed that a six-week-old unresponsive baby was brought to a hospital in Connecticut and had tested positive for the virus. Details around the death of the baby have been unclear as it has not been confirmed if the baby had any underlying conditions.

In the meantime, four women in Wuhan, China who contracted the virus gave birth to healthy babies without the virus.

ALSO SEE: Coronavirus and pregnancy: should you be concerned?

Stay calm

South African moms-to-be have had to deal with conflicting information, often relying on international news reports and the WHO about coronavirus and how it could impact on them and their babies should they get the virus. Uyanda Tayali who is expecting her first child started getting worried in March when she experienced flu-like symptoms. Unlike many people, Uyanda’s concern is not only for her life but for her unborn baby as well.

“I think like everyone else. I took it lightly with the hopes that it would happen and pass just as quickly as previous cases of Ebola. It’s started to sink in when my sister-in-law who stays in Australia started sending us pictures of the situation there and I remember her saying ‘for those having babies at this time, good luck to them’.”

This is the case for many pregnant women in the country facing uncertainty about not only getting the virus, but also whether or not they will receive treatment during the lockdown. What happens with their gynae appointments and what will happen to their unborn babies should they test positive for the virus?

ALSO SEE: Antenatal classes in the time of COVID-19

First-time mom, Lynne Farah found herself at the end of a rather frightening email when she received an out-of-office reply from her gynae saying their offices were shut during the lockdown. “I thought this was strange as medical staff are considered essential services”.

Third-time mom, Ndzalama “Lama” Ngwenya who is currently full-term shared that this lockdown derailed her entire birthing plan. “I always decided that I wanted a home birth as I could not do it with my last birth. I had found a Cape Town-based gynae and I was meant to fly her down to Joburg,” she says. Lama has decided that she is going to have a free-flowing home birth with the assistance of a paramedic.

Says Katrina Meek, Parenty’s in-house Doula: “Extreme long-term stress can increase your risk of premature birth and low birth weight. It’s important to seek guidance and advice with your care provider. Tackle your stress levels as soon as you can, so you can enjoy your pregnancy.”

“The scariest thing has been not knowing what this means. Three weeks ago studies were saying infants and children were almost immune to the coronavirus – or felt very little of the effects – they were simply considered carriers. But new research shows that infants are vulnerable to the virus and there are more reports of infants dying – the latest was a 6-month-old in Connecticut, America,” says Lynne.

Many expectant mothers are taking precautions to ensure that they don’t run the risk of being exposed to the virus. First-time mom, Mandisa Gaba finds herself hysterically cleaning surfaces in the house. “I am using very strong chemicals that are now hurting my hands.”

The physical and mental health of pregnant women is of paramount importance. Women like Mandisa are wearing themselves out physically by constantly being on their feet cleaning their houses. “I would rather be safe than sorry,” she adds.

ALSO SEE: Why now, more than ever, you need to breastfeed your baby

The new normal

Reports on TimesLive indicates that doctors may encourage women to have a natural birth rather than a C-section in “an effort to conserve protective medical gear.” The benefit of having a natural birth means less time in recovery for mothers and newborns and thus a decreased risk of being exposed to the virus while at the hospital.

“My friend gave birth in December and I said to her I wish I had given birth in December just like her. There were no coronavirus concerns and it was a joyous occasion when I went to see her baby at the hospital for the first time. I imagine that with my birth I will have a starkly different experience because of this pandemic. I am due soon and I’m scared to go to the hospital, let alone step out of my house,” says Says Kgomotso Thobejane.

As many pregnant women wait for the curve to flatten and for the coronavirus pandemic to dissipate, expectant moms may have to accept that their birth plan might have to change.

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