Why doctors say pregnant women declining COVID-19 testing before delivery is an unhealthy trend

Digital First

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Welcoming a bundle of joy into the world is an exciting time, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that excitement has turned into worry, not only about delivery but to keeping your baby, yourself, and others safe from the virus.

Doctors at OU Children’s Hospital say they’re seeing a trend of pregnant women coming in for delivery and refusing to have a COVID-19 test performed. The soon-to-be moms say they’ve seen on social media that if they test positive, they might not get skin-to-skin contact with their baby or visitors will not be allowed.

Phantom of the Opera cast members visit Children's Hospital
Phantom of the Opera cast members visit Children’s Hospital in January 2019.

Three doctors at OU Children’s Hospital are debunking the myths pregnant women may hear and set the record straight on why it’s important for expecting moms to be tested for COVID-19.

“We know this is a difficult time for families and for moms as they are expecting a new baby,” said Patricia Williams, MD, NICU Medical Director at OU Children’s Hospital. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about coronavirus.”

Coronavirus
(Getty)

Williams says they are reviewing information on how the virus affects moms or babies exposed to the virus and are changing plans to take care of families as best as possible.

Pregnant women are already at an increased risk for many things, including coronavirus, and it’s important for family members and pregnant women themselves to wear masks while in public, said Donna Tyungu, MD, OU Children’s Hospital Pediatric Infectious Diseases Specialist.

All moms at OU Children’s Hospital are offered a COVID-19 test before delivery in an effort to protect mom, baby, family members, and staff.

However, women are refusing the test, but according to doctors, if they know a mom has the virus they can mitigate potential infection to the child.

If a mom tests positive for COVID-19, doctors will sit down with her and explain the risks and benefits of keeping the baby with her.

If she tests positive, or the testing is unknown, there is a risk to the baby, doctors say. So, skin-to-skin is still offered, but a mask is encouraged. All of this is discussed before delivery occurs.

“We understand the risk of the baby getting the virus through the placenta is very low, it’s very rare,” said Williams.

According to Williams, the biggest risk is if the mom is COVID positive or another family member is positive and they cough on the baby, or if those respiratory droplets get on the baby.

Wearing a mask and washing hands often are a way to decrease transmission, she said.

Wearing a mask and washing hands often are a way to decrease transmission, doctors say.
Image via Pexels

Williams says it makes it harder on doctors and support staff when they don’t know if a mom is positive for the virus. Then, they don’t know what the next best step to take to keep them safe is.

What if the mom didn’t want to be tested, but was positive?

“Could you imagine if you were positive and gave the virus to your baby, or to your family members that were coming to visit?” said Katie Smith, MD, OU Medicine Section Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “I mean, that could be devastating.”

There are risks involved not only for the mom if that happens, but for the baby, family members and doctors or nurses in the room.

“Getting tested keeps you healthy,” said Smith.

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If a mom is tested and she is negative, there are no changes in care. Moms can do skin-to-skin immediately and receive regular newborn care.

Most babies born to COVID positive moms are not sick and do not need to come to the NICU, Williams says.

Currently in the NICU, if a baby is sick and does need to come to NICU, there are limitations on the number of people coming into the NICU. Only two care providers are able to come and it must be one at a time.

If a mother does not want to be tested or the status is unknown and baby shows symptoms, the baby would then be tested for the virus. However, doctors say that is a rare occurrence.

Incidentally, the CDC says that women in the third trimester are at increased risk for COVID.

Via Pexels

“With the help of our pediatricians, our OB doctors, we can take a woman who is positive for COVID and help ensure that they stay healthy, the baby does, the family members,” said Smith. “We want to work together to keep this virus from spreading through their family and then further into the community. And the only way we’ll know that is through testing. So it’s really important that patients get tested. It’s just going to help direct the best possible care for them and their newborn.”

In an effort to keep everyone safe, all care providers are screened every day for infection and wear masks.

After a baby is born, parents are eager to show off their new little one, but doctors advise them to take a step back and find another way to show off baby. They suggest virtual visits, but if you have a network of family using masks, staying safe and social distancing, those people are likely safe to be around, said Tyungu.

She adds that as the virus continues to spread, there will be more cases involving children. And while children are not dying at the same rate as older citizens, children can be infected and transmit the virus.

Additionally, Tyungu says don’t believe everything you hear about CO2 poisoning just by wearing a mask.

“We typically wear double masks as well to protect ours masks and we do that for eight or nine hours a day. We don’t have any problems breathing or thinking or any problems with CO2 poisoning.”

Overall, the health of mom and baby are the number one priority, and doctors say they just want to make sure they’re taking the best care possible.

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