MANKATO — More than 100 babies are born at the Mankato hospital in an average month, so the fifth floor staff have plenty of experience with delivering babies and caring for them and their mothers.
With the 300 or so births in the spring of 2020, however, it will be a new experience for medical professionals, moms and families. Video appointments for prenatal care, virtually no visitors to the fifth floor obstetrics center, little interaction between patients, more stringent health screening of patients and staff ... .
So, while there’s always some anxiety when people are expecting, that’s particularly true with the uncertainty of a pregnancy during a pandemic, said Dr. Chaun Cox, a family medicine physician with Mayo Clinic Health System.
“We know that this time for families and for mothers in particular is a stressful time,” Cox said.
Many of the strategies for dealing with stress — in-person pregnancy support meetings, get-togethers with friends and family, group exercise programs and more — have now been replaced by isolation. For expectant moms, added stress itself is dangerous, tied to premature labor, pre-term births and a failure of an infant to thrive after birth, he said.
“Reach out, let us know,” Cox said to pregnant women who are looking for strategies and therapies for reducing anxiety.
For couples seeking solid medical information about the impact of the novel coronavirus on pregnancy, Cox wishes he could offer more.
“There’s still a great deal we have to learn about it,” he said.
Among the unknowns — whether pregnant women are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, whether they’re more likely to get severely ill, whether the disease leads to complications in the pregnancy, whether the virus can be passed on to the fetus if the mother is infected ... .
“The situation is evolving and we’re learning about it every day,” Cox said.
Much more information is available about how other viruses impact pregnancy. Influenza, for instance, tends to cause more serious illness in pregnant women. And one of the symptoms of COVID-19 — an extended fever — is tied to adverse outcomes for the fetus regardless of what illness causes the fever.
The best advice for pregnant women is the advice people have been hearing for weeks. Wash hands often and thoroughly, avoid touching the face, practice social distancing, cover coughs.
Women won’t be without a teammate when it’s time to deliver. The baby’s father or one other support person is still being allowed in the delivery room. The traditional post-birth visits by friends and family, though, are now prohibited with the exception of a single designated visitor.
For those with babies in the specialty care nursery, they’ll have to rely on a live video feed of the baby.
“It’s kind of a 24/7 eye into the nursery,” said Amanda Dyslin, a senior communications specialist for Mayo.
New moms are still advised to strongly consider breastfeeding if it’s practical for their situation. Breastfeeding is still the best source of nutrition for infants.
“The virus has not been detected in breast milk,” Cox said.
A new mother who has COVID-19 should wash hands and wear a mask during care and feeding of her child. If possible, she should use a breast pump and have someone who is not infected do the feeding, he said.