New York Hospitals Ban Birthing Partners
New York hospitals ban birthing partners in the delivery room. Here is what we know: Two of New York’s top hospitals, New York Presbyterian and Mount Sinai, are denying spouses and partners access to the delivery rooms while women are giving birth. Checking into a hospital amidst the COVID-19 outbreak is already a scary and uncomfortable experience. Now, on top of that, women across the city are preparing to give birth without the emotional support of a single family member in the delivery room.
New York Presbyterian, which includes 13 locations around New York City and Westchester, issued a statement saying: “No visitors including birthing partners and support persons are permitted for obstetric patients. We understand that this will be difficult for our patients and their loved ones, but we believe that this is a necessary step to promote the safety of our new mothers and children.”
However, critics of the policy have been quick to point out that if a pregnant woman and her partner are already living together, then they’re likely to either both be infected or both not be infected; therefore excluding a spouse from the delivery room is relatively futile. Others have called for hospitals to do on-the-spot testing for husbands, so they can be clear to enter.
The new policy goes against the New York State Department of Health’s advice for managing pregnancy and COVID, which states, “For labor and delivery, the Department considers one support person essential to patient care throughout labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period.” The World Health Organization agrees that even in light of COVID-19, “A safe and positive childbirth experience includes having a companion of choice present during delivery.”
There are medical as well as emotional reasons for this. Samantha Huggins, Co-founder of Carriage House Birth and a full spectrum doula explains that there are “things that partners might notice that wouldn’t come up on a screen for an OB or a nurse.” Further, there are times when nurses and doctors aren’t necessarily in the room. In those cases, a partner can be helpful in noticing any complications.
However, it’s the emotional support that most new mothers will really be missing. Huggins explains, that having “someone you trust and you love and you feel loved by and that makes you feel safe — whether it’s your wife or your husband or your best friend or your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your mom or just your doula — that person is like your beacon, that thing that you can open your eyes and look to and everything is okay.” Now expectant mothers are losing that at a moment when the increased stresses of COVID-19 mean they need it more than ever.
One Twitter user wrote, “From a 2nd time mother about to deliver I can’t even begin to tell you the importance of having someone by your side not only emotionally but physically … This is horrendous and tremendously scary for the mothers.” Another said, “I am due to give birth in May and have extreme anxiety about the hospital’s decision … I beg you to reconsider.”
A chorus of voices has called for responses from Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. At the frontline of the fight is Jessica Pournaras, a local doula, who created a change.org petition aimed at protecting the rights of birthing mothers. She writes, “We know the hospital system is overwhelmed in this crisis. However, the burden will only be increased by banning support people from Labor & Delivery. We must ensure no one gives birth alone.” As of March 26th, 2020, the petition had over 500,000 signatures.
Petrified soon-to-be mothers have quickly started exploring other options. Many have considered leaving the state or even doing a home birth. Samantha Huggins explains why making a rash decision amidst the COVID-19 outbreak is not a good idea: “We’ve been sitting in this phase of anticipatory grief and really high adrenaline and that’s not conducive to good decision making.”
Further, she explains that if you haven’t been planning for a home birth, you shouldn’t suddenly decide to have one at the last minute. “It is such a deep commitment to choose to have a baby at home and it’s a very specific person … If they didn’t already think it was the safest choice for them, then it’s not.”
So what can you do if you’re preparing to give birth alone?
Invest in an online childbirth education class or hire a doula. Many organizations, including Carriage House Birth, will be flexible on price in light of COVID-19. Now is not the time to panic. Now is not the time to throw out the support systems you do have in place. Just because you won’t be able to have a doula in the delivery room with you, doesn’t mean they can’t be an invaluable piece of support. Some hospitals are even allowing patients to FaceTime their doulas during labor.
It makes sense if spouses and partners feel out of control and unable to support the mothers. But Huggins explains that the best thing they can do right now is research. Pick up some of those childbirth books their partners have been reading. Remember that they are still a part of this.
Finally, Huggins recommends remembering that although “this is a tough time, there is still joy in this.” If you are about to give birth, “recognize and honor the grief and also make space for the celebration.”
Current New York Hospital Policies on Birthing Partners
New York Hospitals currently banning partners in the delivery room:
“At this time, no visitors including birthing partners and support persons are permitted for obstetric patients.”
“We are prohibiting all visitors in maternity and postpartum units across the system, including partners or guests of patients in labor and allowing mothers only in NICU units.”
New York Hospitals currently allowing one support person in the delivery room:
“Labor and delivery patients are permitted one visitor throughout the labor, delivery, and postpartum period, which can include a partner, family member, doula, or other support person. The visitor cannot be rotated.”
“All patient visitation is suspended except for a visitor of a woman in labor, an infant in the neonatal ICU….”
“One designated support person can accompany patients admitted for labor and may remain with the patient in the postpartum unit. There will be no return visitation once leaving the building.”