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While the spread of COVID-19 has become a cause of concern for everyone, it is more worrisome for pregnant women. Apart from the fear of acquiring the infection and transmission to the foetus, worries among the pregnant women include: Will this infection affect the process of delivery? Will the baby be safe? Can I breastfeed the newborn?

Anushka Shrestha from WOW talks to Dr. Jageshwor Gautam, Director of Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital to get a few answers.

How have you been coping with pregnancy patients during this pandemic?

Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital is the fifth largest maternity hospital globally based on the number of deliveries. We had 30,627 admissions, 22,147 deliveries and 200,000 outpatients last year. The pandemic has created tremendous pressure on hospitals and health care providers. Service delivery to this huge number of patients is challenging. Now, we have postponed routine gynecological surgery, so that our workforce is utilised for emergency and maternity services. We have informed clients not to come to the hospital for simple general problems, they are advised to contact our doctors by telephone for queries.

What is the situation for pregnant women at the hospital?

We have been giving outpatient service to all pregnant women during the lockdown period. Our services are available round the clock for emergency services. On average, 70 patients are admitted daily; out of them 50-55 patients deliver babies daily whereas our deliveries before lockdown were 70 per day. Clients get OPD service, safe abortion service, family planning, laboratory service, ultrasound service, medicolegal service and emergency services in our hospital. All patients including pregnant women have to wash their hands just after entering the hospital, social distancing of at least one metre, wearing of face mask, and one visitor for one patient. Hospital provides ambulance service if available. If not, clients are advised to contact 102 for ambulance service.

How are the pregnant women in rural parts dealing with the pandemic?

Pregnant women living in rural areas are facing tremendous difficulties because of the lockdown. Local health authorities should come forward to tackle this situation. They can provide regular health services at their institutions, home visits and consultation through mobile phones. Very serious maternity patients from rural areas are air-lifted by Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizen free of cost.

How likely are pregnant women to catch Coronavirus?

Women are less likely to get Coronavirus as compared to men. Women have XX chromosomes responsible for better immunity. Good personal hygiene, less smoking and drinking, low indulgence of hypertension, diabetes and lung diseases in female population are positive predictors for less chance of Coronavirus infection in women. So, chances of Coronavirus infection in pregnant women is similar to that of non-pregnant ones.

Can the virus be passed to the baby?

The history of Coronavirus infection is very short, many things are not known and our experience is minimum. Based on short experience, the virus is not transferred from mother to baby during pregnancy as the virus cannot pass through placenta. But this infection can be transmitted to baby after delivery. Less handling of baby by infected mother, proper washing of hands with soap and water before breast feeding, wearing mask and cleaning of breasts with sanitizer prevents mother to baby transmission after delivery.

Can women with COVID-19 breastfeed?

Yes. Women with COVID-19 can breastfeed if they wish to do so. They should:

  • Practice respiratory hygiene during feeding, wearing a mask where available
  • Wash hands before and after touching the baby
  • Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces they have touched

What should pregnant women do if they think they might have been infected by Coronavirus?

Once they think they are infected, social distancing, self-quarantine, not sharing objects and bathrooms, proper sanitation and testing for Coronavirus are key steps.

So far, they are admitted in COVID-19 hospitals if they are found to be positive in our country. But in countries where Coronavirus cases are very high, they are advised to stay at home, no contacts with others and maintenance of personal hygiene. They can go to the hospital if there are respiratory difficulties. Many patients have no symptoms, flu like symptoms, or respiratory difficulties based on viral load, immune power and other co-morbid conditions like advanced age, diabetes, hypertension, use of immunosuppressant medicine, smoking and lung diseases.

Do you have any helpline number for pregnancy consultation?

Yes, we have a helpline number 01-4260405. Patients can contact doctors between 10am to 1pm from Sunday to Friday. We will provide toll free number in near future.

Any plans if the lockdown continues for a longer period?

We have already reopened our Bhaisepati OPD from Baisakh 10. Our OPD and indoor services are functional even during the lockdown period. We are ready to provide our hospital services to the clients even if the lockdown continues. Transportation is the limiting factor for patients that should be managed by local, state and federal governments.