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While COVID-19 has affected routine medical visits and non-emergency procedures, people are still giving birth and in need of support. Across the country, hospitals and health systems are implementing COVID-19 response plans that are shaping birth plans and experiences for expectant mothers and their families. This includes virtual appointments for prenatal care and potentially limiting the number of support persons present during labor and delivery.
The current public health crisis is also influencing post-delivery discharge. Prior to the pandemic, the average length of stay after giving birth vaginally with no complications in a hospital was about 48 hours. Currently, to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19, mothers and babies may be discharged 12 to 24 hours post-delivery. Ensuring mothers and their newborns receive the proper postnatal care and access to support networks is more difficult to provide with such brief lengths of stay.
Traditionally, essential communication and links to support networks — including information on signs of postpartum depression, baby care, and lactation support — occurs during the 48-hour post-delivery stay. Current guidelines around physical distancing may contribute to feelings of isolation and elevate the risk factors for postpartum depression and anxiety. During a recent Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Better Maternal Outcomes Community Connections call, clinicians and birth support partners cited an urgent need to offer patient- and family-facing resources to support postpartum mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the following organizations demonstrate, it is critical to connect new mothers to support networks and provide appropriate resources:
- Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital, during a webinar with other California Perinatal Quality Collaborative and California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative participants, stressed the importance of assessing the emotional and mental health of new parents upon discharge and in follow-up visits. To support parents who may feel isolated, families are offered resources on ways to address grief and anxiety and encouraged to develop plans for getting groceries and much-needed sleep.
- Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center provides helpline support and links to resources while their Getting Better Together Postpartum Support Group for Moms is unable to meet in person.
- Lompoc Valley Medical Center provides online information and support to postpartum mothers during COVID-19, including recommendations to keep postpartum appointments by telemedicine instead of in-person, if possible.
We invite you to explore the resources identified during IHI’s Better Maternal Outcomes Community Connection call and in AHA’s COVID-19 Maternal and Child Health Resource Guide, which shares ways hospitals and health systems are caring for mothers and babies during the COVID-19 crisis.
With all the complexities and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for maternal and infant health, our goal remains the same: a healthy mom and baby dyad. IHI and AHA will continue to collect helpful resources to help new mothers access peripartum support as the pandemic continues to unfold. If your organization has developed helpful resources to support women, we invite you to share them below or by emailing email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ginny Trainor, LCSW, is Program Director, Strategic Initiatives, American Hospital Association. Catherine Mather, MA, is Project Director, Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
You may also be interested in:
Testing Virtual Ways to Support New Mothers
AHA Maternal and Child Health During COVID-19 resources
California Perinatal Quality Care Collaborative and California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative COVID-19 Resources for Maternal and Infant Health
More COVID-19 Guidance and Resources