Maternal & Newborn Care In The time of COVID-19

MATERNAL health needs should be prioritized and safeguarded at all cost in the face of a pandemic, USAID maternal, newborn and child health program (MCHIP) Director, Dr Koki Agarwal has said.

By Michael Gwarisa

Dr Agarwal said despite the ongoing ravaging pandemic, maternal health needs have not gone away, instead they have increased.

Now more than ever, the health needs of women must be safeguarded. In the three decades that I’ve worked to ensure high-quality, equitable health care for women and their children across the globe, this fact holds true: The health of a mother affects the health of her entire family. Whether they live in Los Angeles, Lagos or Lahore, women today are worrying about how to care for themselves and their families when COVID-19 is impacting their community.

“They are questioning whether to go to a health facility for their routine care and to give birth. They’re concerned about continued access to antenatal care and if their baby will get the care needed to survive the first week of life. And what about breastfeeding—is it still the best option? As we navigate the rapid changes brought with COVID-19, there is comfort in knowing that four interventions for a healthy pregnancy and birth remain essential: antenatal care, delivery with a skilled birth attendant, breastfeeding and postnatal care,” said Dr Agarwal.

She added that due to the fact that respiratory infections can more severely affect pregnant women, they must be supported to protect themselves against COVID-19 with frequent handwashing, social distancing and good respiratory hygiene (covering mouth and nose with a bent elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing).

“They should also seek medical care early if fever, cough or difficulty breathing arise. Many maternal deaths in low- and middle-income countries could be prevented through expanded access to high-quality antenatal care.

“All pregnant women—including those with suspected or confirmed COVID-19—should continue to see a doctor or midwife to optimize healthy outcomes for both themselves and their newborns, even if this means using re-organization of services or new strategies and technologies to safely connect pregnant women with antenatal care providers.”

She also said the risk of maternal death is highest during labor, birth and the first 24 hours following birth. Therefore, the safest place for a woman to deliver is at a functional health facility with a skilled birth attendant—even during a pandemic.

“By itself, COVID-19 infection in pregnancy is not a valid indication for cesarean delivery. All pregnant women have the right to a safe and respectful childbirth experience, including access to partner support. Having a birth companion of choice has proved key to increasing facility births, and it shouldn’t be taken away during this time of social distancing. Whenever possible, birth companions should be supported to have safe presence at births to protect themselves and health workers.”


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