As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise around the country, maternity hospitals are cracking down on visitors to protect the health of mothers and their babies as well as considering early discharge post-delivery, in line with new national advice.
On Saturday, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) issued new guidelines, which acknowledged the risk posed to the community, health workers, all patients and pregnant patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How will this affect you?
As well as reducing, postponing and/or increasing the interval between antenatal visits and limiting routine antenatal visits to less than 15 minutes, RANZCOG also recommended closing access to hospital and maternity units to visitors (excluding partners).
While there is some variation between hospitals, and you will need to check with your own, most have now issued updated visitor requirements.
In an Instagram post, The Mater Private Hospital in North Sydney told patients that while partners are welcome, other family members and friends are not permitted to visit. Maternity Tours have also been cancelled.
Meanwhile, the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne has advised patients to "keep visitor numbers to a minimum" and discourage siblings and other children from visiting. "We remind the community that visitors should not come to the Women's if they are unwell," they note.
While most parents and parents-to-be are supportive of the move, some have admitted to feeling "heartbroken" and concerned about the logistics.
"I completely understand this, I really do," one mum wrote on Instagram. "However, I'm due in eight weeks and will be having a c-section and therefore staying for five nights. Will be heartbreaking to not to be able to see my eldest child for that amount of time. Or for him to be able to meet his sibling for that amount of time. It will also result in my husband not being able to spend time at the hospital due to caring for him at home ... "
New South Wales mum Hayley is currently five days overdue with her fourth child and tells Essential Baby that she's torn about the ban, but also understands that it's warranted. "We'd love people to come and support us and welcome the baby but obviously a bit wary of germs," she says. She's also prepared for a quick discharge from hospital. "I left four hours after birth with my other babies and that'll be the plan this time," Hayley says.
Dr Nicole Highet, Founder and Executive Director of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) tells Essential Baby: "It's understandable to be anxious at the moment and disappointed about not having visitors however it's always better to be safe, and prevention is always the best approach when it comes to public health issues such as this.
"Try to think about way that you can still connect with friends and family through for example FaceTime or Skype from Hospital," she says. "While it is never going to be quite the same as having a hold of bub, remember, there are many days and years ahead for cuddles, as this too shall pass."
Newborn baby tests positive for COVID-19
The move comes as a newborn baby in London tested positive for the coronavius minutes after being born. The baby's mother had been admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia but only tested positive for COVID-19 after giving birth, reports The Sun, who say the baby is the "world's youngest victim".
But questions remain around how the newborn contracted the illness.
"We can't say it happened while the baby was still in the womb," Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Live Science. "The baby could have also contracted the virus during, or immediately after, birth."
What we currently know about the impact on babies and pregnant women:
The news remains comforting for babies and pregnant women.
A recent study of 19 pregnant women infected with COVID-19, which was published in The Lancet found no evidence of mum to baby transmission.
In addition, research published in JAMA on February 14 looked at cases of coronavirus in infants under the age of one in China. Nine babies were infected between December 8, 2019, and February 6, 2020. The youngest was just one month old and the oldest was 11 months. All babies were hospitalised. One baby had no symptoms but tested positive for the illness. None of the infants became seriously unwell.
RANZCOG advises the following preventative measures for pregnant women:
- Hand washing regularly and frequently with an alcohol based hand rub or soap and water
- Avoidance of anyone who is coughing and sneezing
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
- Early reporting and investigation of symptoms and prompt access to appropriate treatment and supportive measures if infection is significant.
Pregnant women are also advised to avoid all non-essential overseas travel and to report early symptoms to their midwife, obstetrician or GP.
Tele-health now available:
The government recently announced that Telehealth (consultations with doctors via phone) will be bulk-billed for pregnant women and those with newborns.
What else can parents do?
In an article for The Conversation, Karleen Gribble Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Western Sydney University and Nina Jane Chad Research Fellow, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney suggest parents of babies prepare for COVID-19 by taking the following steps:
- Practise good hygiene. "Because babies put their hands in their mouths no matter what, frequently washing their face and hands and cleaning surfaces and objects they might touch will help protect them from any infection."
- Keep baby home from daycare - if you can: "If you need to use it, when you pick up your baby from daycare, wash their hands and face, change their clothes, then wash your own hands, before scooping them into that big, warm hug."
- Make sure vaccinations are up to date: "Routine vaccination is the safest, most effective way to protect babies and children from illness." The authors not that this will minimise the chance babies will need medical attention while the health system is dealing with the coronavirus.
- Think about alternative care arrangements: If your standby carers are over 60 - a high risk group for coronavirus - you might need to consider other options to protect grandparents from becoming unwell.
- Bottle-feeding: Take extra care preparing bottles. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and ensure bottles are washed and sterilised after use. Have enough formula for three weeks and check expiry dates.
What about breastfeeding?
According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) women can continue to breast feed even if unwell.
"Breastfeeding helps protect babies from a variety of illnesses," the ABA notes. "This is because breast milk contains antibodies and other immune protective factors. If you have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having COVID-19, care should be taken to avoid spreading the virus to your baby while you continue to breastfeed."
As the COVID-19 pandemic is an evolving issue, for more resources and up to date information, visit:
PANDA Helpline: 1300 726 306