Coronavirus tough calls: When a mother and newborn can stay together — and when they can’t

Click to play video: 'No increased risk of coronavirus in pregnancy, experts say'
No increased risk of coronavirus in pregnancy, experts say
WATCH: Are pregnant folks at a greater risk of contracting the virus and passing it to their fetus? According to experts, so far research indicates no – Mar 12, 2020

As the number of new coronavirus cases rises across Ontario, hospitals are preparing to help deliver babies to women who test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

At Mount Sinai Hospital, that means preparing for the tough call about when a mother and her newborn can stay together — and when they can’t.

Experts have tried to assuage people’s concerns: early data shows being pregnant does not put you at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, nor is there evidence that breastfeeding your baby could transmit the virus (handwashing remains key).

And while no evidence exists yet indicating whether a pregnant woman can pass the virus on to her unborn child, experts admit there really is so much we still don’t know.

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In China, where this strain of coronavirus was first discovered, the pregnancy outcomes have been largely good. However, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada reported it is “likely to be strongly correlated with the degree of maternal illness,” as was the case with SARS and MERS.

In more severe instances, outcomes included “spontaneous and iatrogenic” (or medically indicated) preterm labour, and in one case, stillbirth.

It’s hard for many to contemplate bringing a newborn into the world right now, a sea of “unknowns” that Global News’ own eight-month-pregnant Jamie Mauracher recently wrote about navigating.

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In any case, Mount Sinai is “well prepared” to care for pregnant women, Dr. Prakesh Shah, the hospital’s pediatrician-in-chief, told Global News via email on March 18.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Canadian hospitals trying to increase capacity for serious COVID-19 cases'
Coronavirus outbreak: Canadian hospitals trying to increase capacity for serious COVID-19 cases

If a woman giving birth is confirmed to have COVID-19, she will be taken care of in an isolation room, Shah said. He said there are also neonatal intensive-care isolation rooms where mother and child can be cared for safely together while awaiting test results.

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However, that plan is contingent upon the health of the mother and baby at birth.

If the baby is not prematurely born and both mother and child appear healthy, Shah said they will be kept together and hospital staff will take “special precautions” to allow for breastfeeding should the mother want to do so.

However, Shah noted that if either the mother or her newborn are “unwell,” they will be separated and the baby cared for in the neonatal intensive unit. Because that unit is home to many premature, at-risk babies, he said there will be limits — including on parents — to who can access that space.

Of course, as is the case with so much pertaining to COVID-19, the situation can change rapidly, so Shah said the plan is being “continually reviewed.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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