‘Women Will Not Be Forced to Be Alone When They Are Giving Birth’

Women preparing to give birth at some hospitals in New York City will no longer have to labor alone, nor will they need to remain isolated from their partner or family while recovering in the hospital after delivery, state officials said.

Melissa DeRosa, the secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, announced an executive order would be issued on Saturday requiring all hospitals in New York, both public and private, to comply with the latest guidance issued by the New York State Department of Health.

The order is a response to a decision earlier this week by two major New York City hospital systems, NewYork-Presbyterian and Mount Sinai, to ban support people from labor and delivery rooms because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Women will not be forced to be alone when they are giving birth,” Ms. DeRosa said on Twitter shortly after the pending executive order was announced.

The Department of Health, the regulatory authority over hospitals, had notified hospitals on Friday that they were required to allow one person to accompany a woman throughout labor and delivery.

The NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital network, where about 25,000 infants are delivered each year, and the Mount Sinai Hospital System, both private, had instituted the ban on support persons in response to the coronavirus epidemic, resulting in an outcry from expectant parents, doulas and midwives, and a petition that has received more than 600,000 signatures.

A spokeswoman for NewYork-Presbyterian said in a statement on Saturday that it would comply with the executive order “effective immediately.”

“Our highest priority continues to be the safety and well-being of our patients, their families, and our staff,” the statement said.

And Renatt Brodsky, a spokeswoman for Mt. Sinai, said on Saturday that the hospital system would follow the executive order “effective today.”

“We have always — and will always — make these difficult decisions with the best of intentions and safety of the mother, baby and our staff as our guiding principle,” Ms. Brodsky said.

Dr. Christopher Zahn, the vice president of practice activities for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, emphasized the value of support persons in labor and delivery rooms in a statement on Friday.

“Evidence suggests that, in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by a partner or support personnel such as a doula is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor,” Dr. Zahn said.

He added, “Labor support can be particularly critical for women who already face health care disparities and other barriers to care.”

Jesse Pournaras, a New York City-based doula who brought the petition opposing the new policies, said the decision was a victory on behalf of women giving birth in New York City and beyond.

“It should set the precedent that laboring individuals are entitled to the support of their choosing in labor,” Ms. Pournaras said.

NewYork-Presbyterian changed its policies after pregnant women who were positive for Covid-19 but asymptomatic exposed more than 30 hospital workers to the virus.

Soon after the babies were delivered, the mothers’ conditions “deteriorated very quickly,” and the mothers were admitted to the intensive care unit, said Dr. Mary D’Alton, the chief obstetrician and gynecologist at the NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan.

Details about the cases at Columbia were presented in a paper published online on Thursday in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology MFM.

There is no evidence the infants have contracted the virus.

Dr. Vincenzo Berghella, editor in chief of the journal, said he was strongly in favor of a no-visitor policy for maternity patients where support is offered via video.

“I understand well both sides — I remember every minute of assisting emotionally during the birth of our two sons,” he said in an email on Saturday. “But saving lives now is more important.”

Flannery Amdahl, 36, a New Yorker who is in her second trimester of pregnancy, has been following the controversy closely.

“It has been so difficult to come to terms with. I have definitely cried over this policy,” she said.

But she said she did not fully support the state’s decision to compel hospitals to allow support people in labor and delivery rooms.

“I am torn because on the one hand, it is really scary to think about the possibility of giving birth alone, and not having an advocate in the delivery room,” she said. “However, I don’t think the hospitals made this decision lightly, at all. They recognize that medical personnel are risking their own lives to just be there.”

Jesse McKinley contributed reporting from Albany.

  • Updated March 24, 2020

    • How does coronavirus spread?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • What makes this outbreak so different?

      Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • What if somebody in my family gets sick?

      If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      Experts are divided on how much protection a regular surgical mask, or even a scarf, can provide for people who aren’t yet sick. The W.H.O. and C.D.C. say that unless you’re already sick, or caring for someone who is, wearing a face mask isn’t necessary. And stockpiling high-grade N95 masks will make it harder for nurses and other workers to access the resources they need. But researchers are also finding that there are more cases of asymptomatic transmission than were known early on in the pandemic. And a few experts say that masks could offer some protection in crowded places where it is not possible to stay 6 feet away from other people. Masks don’t replace hand-washing and social distancing.

    • Should I stock up on groceries?

      Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.


Read More