Coronavirus

The families expecting a baby during Australia's coronavirus lockdown

Bianca Atkins, pictured with her partner Sam, is hoping to have a home birth. Source: Supplied

Pregnancy is a time of great joy for most families, but those expecting during the coronavirus pandemic have increased concerns. SBS News spoke to families about what it will mean for them and asked health experts about the protection measures in place.

Daniella Baghdadi is 35 weeks pregnant and expecting a baby boy.

Being of Croatian background and married to Omar, who is of Lebanese background, they have big immediate families who were hoping to share in their upcoming joy. 

It is Daniella’s second pregnancy via IVF, which was already a tough journey for her family without the baby having to be born during a pandemic. 

“Getting pregnant was quite an issue and obviously we had a lot of anxiety around it," she told SBS News.

"The last few weeks since this all blew up, I have barely left the house.”

Daniella was informed that due to new coronavirus restrictions, if her birth partner is unwell at the time she goes into labour, he won’t be allowed into the birthing suite.

“Freaks me out, obviously, massively, considering my husband works on a job site with a hundred other people every single day,” she said. 

Daniella and Omar Baghdadi with their son Noah.
Daniella and Omar Baghdadi with their son Noah.
Supplied

Bianca Atkins is 35 weeks pregnant and expecting a baby girl.

Her partner Sam recently lost his job due to the impact of COVID-19 on businesses around Australia. 

Bianca is planning a home birth in their town of McCrae, on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula, but no one else will be able to visit the couple once the baby arrives.

“I know, I know, it’s so sad, it’s not an ideal situation is it?" she said. 

"[We're] kind of coping with the idea that it’s going to be quite isolated.”

Bianca Atkins and her partner Sam.
Bianca Atkins and her partner Sam.
Supplied

It will be the couple's first child and they are excited and nervous about what lies ahead.

Sam’s family is in New Zealand, so the baby’s grandparents and relatives might not be able to visit until she is six months old.

Bianca’s family lives in the Dandenong Ranges near Geelong, but despite being in the same state, rules around social distancing and travel may restrict them from being able to support the couple if still in place. 

“We come from a smaller family but very, very tight-knit," Bianca said. 

"I always envisioned my mother and grandmother would be over to help us and stay with us. We can’t have that happen now. It is quite sad to think they possibly might not see the baby until she’s a few months old." 

“We will take it day by day, and see how we go. My partner has lost his job as well, which is awful, but it will be nice we will be home together and I won’t be on my own, which I would struggle with.”

Are mothers-to-be at greater risk of coronavirus? 

Australia has been changing dramatically over the last few weeks and months.

Bianca works in a medical clinic, and when COVID-19 got a little too close for comfort, she started her maternity leave earlier than expected.

“I think it only got serious when Australia had its first confirmed case and I was like 'oh crap, this is going to spread quite quickly', and that’s when I chose to start my maternity leave early,” she said. 

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The risk for pregnant women and babies when it comes to COVID-19 is low, but it is not zero.

Health experts suggest pregnant women do not appear to be more severely unwell if they contract the virus compared to the general population. It is expected that the majority of pregnant women will experience mild or moderate cold or flu-like symptoms.

Dr Vijay Roach is president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) and says pregnant women should not be considered a vulnerable or at-risk group.

“The information that we have so far is that most pregnant women that acquire COVID-19 actually don’t have a more severe illness, and often have very mild or no symptoms at all," he said. 

“We also know that for women who are trying to conceive or are in early pregnancy, the miscarriage rate is not increased." 

“The virus does not pass to your baby, and there is no evidence that it will harm the baby inside you or cause an abnormality.”

Should pregnant women have any extra check-ups? 

Routine antenatal check-ups, ultrasounds, maternal and fetal assessments should continue as before, unless those expecting have been informed it needs to be done via phone or video due to social distancing measures.

Professor Mark Umstad is director of maternity services at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne and has a reassuring message for anyone concerned.

“As the impact of COVID-19 extends through society, we want to reassure pregnant women that there is still no evidence that they are more susceptible to infection than non-pregnant women, and that there is no sign that their unborn babies can be infected.”

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says the common flu is a higher risk for pregnant women than COVID-19.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy speaks to the media.
AAP

“Anyone who is pregnant, as a matter of principle, obviously pays close attention to their health and they will try and avoid contact with someone who has any infection. Influenza is probably more dangerous for a pregnant woman than coronavirus,” he said. 

Dr Roach encourages those expecting to apply regular good hygiene, just like they would if the coronavirus crisis didn’t exist.

“During your pregnancy, there is no reason why your normal care shouldn’t continue, however, some visits might need to be done by Telehealth," he said. 

“You should also make sure that you have influenza and whooping cough vaccination during pregnancy, although this doesn’t impact anything to do with COVID-19.”

What is the advice about having visitors in hospital?

Both public and private hospitals are fully operational, open and receiving patients. Healthcare, antenatal care and maternity care services also remain open and this includes public and private hospital care, GP care, obstetrician and midwife care.

Hospitals advise that if you are being admitted for observation, treatment or delivery, it is important you follow their specific instructions, therefore it is best to call ahead and ask the maternity ward or your obstetrician for the latest advice.

The Department of Health says the safest place to give birth remains in a hospital and all facilities are available. 

Vaginal and cesarean section births are both still taking place, as is the optional use of anaesthesia.

The major difference right now is the heavy restrictions on visitors.

Health experts are keeping pregnant women informed
PA Wire

Some hospitals are asking families to consider not visiting the hospital unless they are an immediate family member or carer of the patient.

Patients at some hospitals are only allowed one visitor per day, and that visitor cannot be younger than 16 years old. That means Daniella’s five-year-old son Noah will not be able to visit his new baby brother in hospital. 

Visitors may also be screened by staff before entering a hospital.

Daniella says not being allowed visitors will be tough for her family.

“It's really hard because you’ve brought a baby home, with IVF it took us quite a few rounds to get pregnant, it has been a long time coming so everyone was really excited and it has put a damper on everything.”

Dr Roach advises that women should attend the hospital with one support person only, who will also be screened for COVID-19.

“During the hospital stay, visitors should be restricted to one person per day. Where appropriate, women should leave hospital on early discharge with community support in place.

“[RANZCOG] supports World Health Organization recommendations that a chosen support person should be able to accompany a woman giving birth. There is no current plan to change this advice.

How are pregnant women coping around the world? 

The Australian Government’s health advice for pregnant women is to communicate openly and regularly with your obstetrician or the maternity ward at the hospital of your choice, and not to compare circumstances, rules or regulations to those of other countries.

In Denver, Colorado, Laura Morsch-Babu is 32 weeks pregnant with her second child.

Due to the severe impact of COVID-19 on the US, she is worried she will have to give birth solo, without the presence of her husband in the birthing suite.

“The last thing, I was told was to prepare myself," she said. "It is certainly a fear here that I’ll be giving birth alone, so this is going to be a very different delivery than what I had last time. I’m terrified because I don’t know what to expect."

“But if that’s what it takes to keep people safe, I guess that’s what we have to accept.”

Laura Morsch-Babu
Laura Morsch-Babu is pregnant with her second child.
Supplied

Maureen Nicol is a single mother-to-be and a PhD student at Columbia University in New York.

She has completely changed her birth plan after visiting her relatives in another state and now she can’t return home due to travel restrictions.

"Potentially, I'll be going into labour without a support person or a family member, or visitor, but then on top of that, delivering in a place that I don't know and with someone I don't know," she said. 

For Bianca in Melbourne, she's trying to concentrate on her own pregnancy journey and says having struggled previously with mental health, support and communication will be key.

“I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression, and while pregnant I’ve toed the line as pregnant people are just a big ball of hormones, crying all the time. I only read the news once or twice a day," she said. 

“There’s a lot of fear out there as well, so I'm just taking it day by day at the moment, and no visitors apart from the midwives, they’ve been the best support.”

Dr Roach said: “We need to remember that pregnant women are at higher risk of developing anxiety or depression, this can apply to your partner as well … [so] look after yourself".

“I want to reassure you that the most likely thing that will happen is that you and your baby will be well … we wish you and your family every happiness with the arrival of your baby.”

Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au. Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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