Amid COVID-19 fears, some parents choose birthing centers over hospitals

Hospitals limit number of visitors to 1 support person

ORLANDO, Fla. – Expectant moms are often told to make a birth plan, but during the coronavirus pandemic policy changes within Central Florida hospitals are forcing some changes.

Heather Rich is a doula, or birth coach, with "In Joy Birth" in Orlando who has helped deliver about 800 babies alongside mothers either in birthing centers, home births, or hospitals. Rich said during the pandemic changes to the hospital visitor policy have prevented her from accompanying her clients inside the hospital.

"It's new territory," Rich said.

According to representatives from Advent Health and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, only one support person is allowed with each expectant mom as an extra precaution during the coronavirus pandemic. Rich said mothers can choose their doula, but in most cases it's a spouse or family member. In other cases though, Rich said she has seen soon-to-be mothers make drastic changes to their birth plans.

"I'd say about half of our third trimester hospital birthing mothers have been coming to us asking for referrals for home birth midwives, for birth centers," Rich said.

One of those birthing centers that has seen an increase in expectant mothers is "Tree of Life Birth and Gynecology" in Orlando and Deland.

"Normally we do about 6-10 consults a week, we're doing 20-25 with more than half of them signing on, so it's been a little bit of a rush," Kaleen Richards, founder of Tree of Life Birth and Gynecology, said.

As a Nurse Practitioner and Nurse Midwife, Richards explained that many of the families who consider a birthing center over the hospital have already considered a natural or "unmedicated" childbirth.

"This has been a little bit of a push for them to be like, well lets do it in a birth center, if we need to go to the hospital, we'll go to the hospital," Richards said.

The increased demand for birthing centers has kept Richards and her team busy educating many new families about the decision to give birth outside the hospital.

"It's time intensive because we're really having to catch them up on the education part, to make sure they understand how the birth process works, what we do here, what we don't do here, when to call, where to call, why to call," Richards said.

Richards' team also follows up with women postpartum, because many of them go home four to six hours after giving birth. Richards said midwives call mothers twice a day, and ask that they have a blood pressure cuff at home to take their own vitals.

AdventHealth for Women in Orlando is also offering virtual consultations and birthing classes. Heather Collins is a registered nurse and birth experience coordinator at the hospital. Her team has quickly learned how to use Zoom for online parent education classes that are normally offered at the hospital.

"You're not alone, you're there with your person, your nurses and your doctors are also rallying around you to provide that comfort and that care," Collins said.

There is no timeline for when extra visitors will be allowed to return to hospitals to meet newborn babies.

“Birth is intimate and sometimes we, you know, make it this social media event and I think when you really allow it to be more intimate it can be even more powerful,” Richards said.

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