Protect Pregnant Mothers During Covid-19

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COVID-19 is affecting US healthcare policies on how pregnant women are permitted to birth. Specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued obstetrics guidelines calling for the isolation of infants born to mothers with confirmed COVID-19. As a result of the CDC directive, hospitals are routinely separating COVID-infected mothers — and those suspected of infection — from their newborns. However, this practice can be detrimental to both mothers and infants.

Request that your governor order your state health department to disregard the CDC’s current obstetrics guidance. Currently, the WHO recommendations, which are science-based, allow for the best possible outcomes for mother and baby:

  • They permit a companion of choice to be present with the mother during delivery, which is known to improve birth outcomes.
  • They encourage healthcare providers to support mothers and babies in maintaining skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding on demand while rooming together in hospitals, birth centers or home settings — unless otherwise contraindicated by emergent conditions (such as necessary NICU support).
  • They require mothers to practice frequent hand washing and proper respiratory hygiene, including the use of masks when possible; this has been demonstrated to prevent person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 infection.

As far as transmission, there is no evidence that COVID-19 has been transmitted to any infant by contact with an infected mother after birth. There is also no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from mothers to infants through breast milk. There is, however, strong evidence that breast milk provides antibody protection against infectious pathogens. Additionally, supporting contact between mothers and infants provides multiple health benefits. In addition to improving breastfeeding outcomes, skin-to-skin contact protects infants from infections and promotes rapid recovery from illness by increasing oxygen saturation and regulating heart rate and body temperature.

The United States already has one of the highest infant mortality rates among developed nations. Of the 36 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States ranked 33rd for infant mortality in 2018. Policies that hinder skin-to-skin contact and on-demand breastfeeding — or that prevent mothers from having appropriate birth and postpartum support — could worsen outcomes and increase infant mortality rates.

Federal law protecting parental rights under the 14th Amendment guarantees that any restrictions on rights must be narrowly tailored to the precise public urgency; strict scrutiny applies. A universal policy of separating COVID-infected mothers (and suspected infected mothers) from their infants is unconstitutional; it interferes with a parent’s right to determine the care, custody and control of her child as well as best practices to maintain that child’s optimal health.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable during times of disaster and emergencies. To protect the rights of mothers and the health of their children, urge your governor to direct our state health department to adopt the WHO’s obstetric guidelines for COVID-19.

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