When the Covid-19 pandemic began, expectant mothers were forced to give birth alone as a safety precaution.
For many, the isolation was traumatic and, according to a recent US study, a lack of support is believed to be one of many pandemic-related factors that have negatively impacted mothers and their newborns.
"Social support is imperative for the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of mothers… [it] protects against the adverse effects of stress, which can promote a better mother-child relationship," the study highlighted.
This is one article in a series on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on ordinary South African families. Find the full series here: Behind the Mask
Beyond birth, the "loss" of celebratory occasions, such as baby showers and sharing the joy of new life with family members through visits, was also noted as something that prohibited "a mother's ability to bond with her baby".
The study included the "self-reported maternal-infant bonding experiences of postpartum women", collected between May and August 2020.
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The current protocol
Things have, by no means, returned to normal.
However, according to local obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Taheera Hassim, birth partners are once again allowed to be present during labour.
"Each hospital has different protocols, but the current protocol followed is that only one birth partner who has had a negative Covid-19 swab result within 72 hours of the admission, is allowed," Dr Hassim notes, adding that birth partners can expect to follow "strict hygiene protocols".
"The birth partner is allowed to accompany the patient into theatre or remain with the patient in the labour room. However, the birth partner is only permitted to come and go from the hospital once a day and no other visitors are allowed," she says.
While this might not be ideal for extended family members who are eager to meet the newborn, Hassim describes it as positive because it provides extra bonding time for the mom and her baby.
"The new mum can have days to rest, feed and bond with the newborn without being interrupted by visitors."
Overall, Hassim says to the Covid-19 safety protocols should be welcomed, even if they feel strange or cold.
"No matter the circumstances, having a baby is a joyful occasion. Changes in labour and delivery protocols during [the pandemic] ensure it's a safe experience. So embrace the change and just enjoy the new arrival".
Is a birth plan still possible?
As far as having a birth plan goes, the obstetrician-gynaecologist assures that the option is viable; however, "minor tweaks" should be expected as Covid-19 safety is still a top priority.
Giving examples, Hassim says walking during labour is permitted; however this must be done within a patient's room and not in hallways.
"Some private facilities have spacious birthing suites that can accommodate good laps around the room if desired," she says.
In terms of pain relief, "IV medications and epidurals are still available," Hassim says; but nitrous oxide is no longer offered.
"Most other options in your birth plan can remain unchanged," she adds.
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What to pack in your hospital bag
If you've given birth before, you may be familiar with the essentials required in a hospital bag.
Hassim says most of the items will remain more or less the same during the pandemic, and below, recommends the following for those who are unsure:
- your birth plan;
- your medical aid card;
- a pillow;
- personal items, like a cellphone, extra-long charging cord, and small tripod for your smartphone;
- pyjamas, slippers and a change of clothing;
- toiletries and any personal care items you want for your own comfort;
- plenty of drinks and snacks;
- sanitiser; and
- a camera.
"Items for [the] baby, like a going-home outfit, will also be the same, and most importantly, remember to bring an infant car seat to transport your newborn home from the hospital safely. Once you get to the hospital, your bag should stay in your hospital room at all times," she says.
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Newborn safety protocols at home
The obstetrician-gynaecologist advises new parents to follow certain safety precautions after returning home.
She highlights the usual Covid-19 safety guidelines as important during your baby's first weeks; this includes staying indoors and only leaving if necessary, especially during periods of peak infection.
"The baby should only be around people who live in the house and are asymptomatic."
She advises that social distancing norms (remaining six feet away from people) when outdoors should be strictly followed.
Within the home, Hassim urges parents to insist that caretakers and siblings adhere to handwashing etiquettes, especially before holding the newborn.
Asking caretakers and siblings to use a face mask is also recommended while holding or caring for the baby.
Read the full series here: Behind the Mask
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