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8 Joyous, Healthy Births, Yet COVID-19 Complicates Maternal Bonding

maternal bonding
Eight babies have already been born at Sheba’s dedicated maternity ward for COVID-19 patients, the first of its kind in Israel. Four of these births were followed by impassioned goodbyes moments after delivery, as women chose to follow doctors’ recommendations and prevent infecting the babies by separating for days.

The COVID-19 obstetrics and gynecology ward were opened at Sheba Medical Center in early April. Since then, eight mothers who tested positive for the novel coronavirus have delivered healthy babies, all of whom tested negative. The unit includes gynecological beds, delivery rooms, operating rooms, postpartum beds, and a special newborn unit.

According to Prof. Eyal Sivan, Director of the Gynecology and Maternity Center, half of these women decided to go against medical advice and remain with their newborns. At this point, it is still too early to know if the virus has infected any of these babies.

“It’s a very dramatic situation,” said Dr. Eldad Katorza, senior physician. “It’s not the nature of human beings to separate babies from the mother. All the bonding is meant to happen at this point — it’s against human and medical instinct.”

Women who choose to separate from their babies for the duration of their infection are only able to view the newborns through a glass window. In theory, they could nurse their babies for a short period after delivery, but Katorza explained that in practice, it is too risky.

“So far we think that the virus is not transmitted in the milk,” he said. “But the mother wouldn’t be able to wear gloves and masks for feeding.”

No family members are allowed to attend the birth, and the only people who are present are medical professionals in hazmat suits. Dr. Katorza discussed how clear speech and communication with facial expressions is rather difficult and extremely strange for both the staff and the women.

“Delivery is normally a very intimate and emotional situation and this is very different. There’s less intimacy and more distance,” he said.

To compensate for the unique challenges posed by COVID-19, the staff is trying various ways to forge a personal connection with patients – despite the barriers of hazmat suits. For example, the medical providers all wear large stickers on their special suits with a picture of how they appear normally. Additionally, the nurses go above and beyond their normal roles before, during, and after the birth. As they perform their medical duties, they also become the women’s friends and support system.

Chief nurse Orit Horovitz expressed how birth and instinctive maternal bonding with the newborn are challenged by coronavirus, and “it’s a great joy and relief every time there’s a birth in these circumstances.”

As Dr. Katorza explained, the concept driving Sheba’s increasing range of separated units for patients with COVID-19 is not only to ensure that they receive necessary medical care, but also to ensure that other people aren’t frightened to go to the hospital.

“We want to encourage patients with chronic illnesses, cancer and other conditions not to neglect their medical situation,” he said. “People who need to come to the hospital must not be scared off, and that’s achieved by making them aware that we’re keeping the general hospital as free of coronavirus as possible.”

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