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What to expect at YNHH when you’re expecting during COVID-19

Yale New Haven Hospital’s timely advice to expecting women: Try not to let anxiety about COVID-19 overshadow your joy of being pregnant.

“Yale New Haven Hospital is committed to honoring the birth experience that women and families envision, and that hasn’t changed during COVID-19,” said Katie Donohue, RN, executive director, Women’s Services and Neonatal Intensive Care. “Our staff partners with families to ensure we meet your expectations, and amid the pandemic that includes taking the current environment into account when caring for you and your baby.”

Extra safety protocols are in place throughout the hospital and specifically within Women’s Services to safeguard patients and their families from exposure to the virus.

YNHH has implemented strict visitor restrictions, including screening any permitted visitors, and requires masks for everyone at all facilities. Women in labor may have one support person with them, provided screening shows that person is asymptomatic.

“By limiting visitors, we aim to limit the spread of the virus and protect patients, newborns and healthcare workers,” said Donohue.

All patients will have a COVID-19 test upon hospital admission for childbirth. Patients with a scheduled caesarean section are tested at their pre-operative visit. Patients who test positive for the virus will go to a separate, dedicated COVID maternity unit called the Obstetric Comprehensive Care Unit (OCCU).

“YNHH is one of the only hospitals in the country with a designated maternity unit for COVID-positive patients,” said Christian Pettker, MD, chief of Obstetrics and associate chief quality officer. “The OCCU provides the full spectrum of pregnancy and post-partum care, including neonatal care if needed.”

Pettker said YNHH has had a small population of pregnant patients – between 2 and 4 percent – who tested positive for COVID-19 upon hospital admission, indicating that the infection rate for pregnant women in Connecticut is far lower than in nearby New York City, where at the height of the pandemic approximately 13.5 percent of women admitted for deliveries had the virus.

COVID-positive patients will have virtually the same birth experience in the OCCU as on non-COVID maternity units. Their care team – the same staff they have seen for prenatal care – will wear extra personal protective equipment required for caring for COVID patients. Babies born to women with the virus will be tested for COVID-19 within 24 hours of birth.

“We speak with patients who test positive for COVID before they deliver about options for nurturing their babies,” said Katherine Campbell, MD, medical director, Labor and Birth, Maternal Special Care Unit. “We recommend separating COVID-positive patients from their newborns to avoid transmitting the disease, but each woman and her obstetric team discuss this and decide on a plan that meets everyone’s needs.”

Lactation services are still being conducted as normal. According to Campbell, YNHH has not seen evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted via breast milk. The hospital does recommend that COVID-positive patients express their milk by hand or with a breast pump so a designated, healthy caregiver can feed their baby. “This minimizes the risk of transmission from close contact between patient and baby,” said Campbell.

In returning home from the hospital, all household members should practice proper hand hygiene and “stay home, stay safe” measures to the extent possible. YNHH recommends restricting visitors from your home and using technology to connect with loved ones.

“Rest assured, YNHH has taken all precautions to ensure you have a safe and wonderful birth experience,” said Steven Fleischman, MD, associate chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The Women’s Services team developed FAQs and held two town hall meetings covering a broad spectrum of topics related to pregnancy during the pandemic. Visit the Pregnancy and COVID-19 FAQ.