In its ongoing efforts to keep all patients and staff safe, University Health System now tests all patients admitted to the hospital for COVID-19, including mothers-to-be.
One unhappy revelation from that has been that many moms-to-be are positive for COVID-19.
Women of childbearing age fall into the age group – 18-40 – that is experiencing by far the greatest number of COVID-19 cases in the city. The percentages of COVID-positive cases for women going into labor can range from 10 to 20 percent, depending on the week – and most of those show no symptoms.
“Generally, the patients are surprised” to learn that they have tested positive, said Dr. Sarah Page-Ramsey, a OB/GYN and residency program director at University Health System and UT Health San Antonio.
The good news is that at University Hospital doctors and nurses are able to keep mother and baby safe, monitor their health and prevent the spread of infection both in the hospital and when they go home. Breastfeeding is both possible and encouraged, with the proper PPE, guidance and access to equipment, if that is what the mother wants to do.
“Fortunately, we are still able to give the mother that choice, and to help her with that important connection,” said Kate McLachlan, a University Health System certified lactation specialist.
To prevent in-hospital transmission, all patients are treated with extra precautions and PPE until their test results are known. Patients who know when they are coming to the hospital are tested two to three days before admission, but babies don’t always give us that kind of notice. COVID-positive patients are assigned designated rooms and nurses, with the accompanying PPE and infection control protocols used to work with all COVID-positive patients.
Dr. Patrick Ramsey, medical director for inpatient OB services at University Hospital and division chief of maternal-fetal medicine with UT Health San Antonio, said that the newborns are tested as well, and that there appears to be a small risk of transmission from mother to baby in utero. He also noted a study of the placentas of COVID-positive mothers had microclots that could suggest future growth problems in the babies – but the information so far is limited and we have much to learn before we know what the real risk is, he said.
Simply being pregnant literally doubles the importance of practicing COVID-prevention measures like mask wearing, physical distancing and diligent hand hygiene - not only for the mother-to-be, but also of the people around her.