COVID-19 pandemic sparks rising interest in home births

Updated: May. 27, 2020 at 11:16 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The Coronavirus pandemic has affected businesses, schools, and operations at healthcare centers.

In an effort to protect frontline workers and patients, several metro-area hospitals have issued new guidelines restricting visitation, many of them now only allow one support person to accompany expectant moms.

Melissa Thigpen is a Direct Entry Midwife at Jackson’s Heritage Birth Services; she said she’s seeing a boom in business as many women have expressed their concerns about the visitation policies in place at hospitals and possibly being exposed to the Coronavirus.

home birth
home birth(Melissa Thigpen)

“In the first 2 weeks of the shutdown, which would’ve been the last part of March, I personally talked to over 50 women,” said Melinda Thigpen, a Direct Entry Midwife. “All of whom where due in the next 4 weeks, none of whom had considered a home birth prior to that point.”

Thigpen said she normally takes on 4-5 customers a month and due to the rising interest in home births, she’s had to turn away several inquiring mothers because she is booked up until later in the year.

“The moms were kind of panicking because they didn’t feel like they were prepared to follow a birth plan and keep the birth that they wanted, that they had been planning for all of those months,” Thigpen said.

The pandemic has also changed operations at Heritage Birth services.

For pre-natal appointments, moms are now being asked to wait in their vehicles, temperature checks are conducted before entering the building, and visitors are asked to wear masks.

Thigpen has also made a few modifications to her routine when she is called to a home to deliver a baby, but she said safety is a priority from the pre-natal appointments to post-partum care.

“Home births are not for everyone,” Thigpen said. “It was very important to me that despite the craziness that was going on in the world, I did not change my standards of care and potentially put moms and babies at risk.”

Yolanda Davis, a community health worker at the Jackson-based Sisters in Birth also reported an increased interest in home births.

Sisters in Birth provides services to Medicaid recipients and those in underserved communities, from the prenatal period until 1-year post-partum.

Davis has been working in public health for 26 years and is also a Certified Lactation Counselor at Sisters in Birth.

She conducts weekly home visits to monitor mom and baby, and attends doctors’ appointments with the mother.

For those under the care of community health workers at Sisters in Birth, preparation for childbirth starts well before the mother goes into labor.

“We don’t wait until birth to get their bodies ready,” Davis said. “We do exercises and of course walking because we want to shorten the length of time they are actually in labor.”

Davis said Mississippi has high rates of high blood pressure, infant mortality, diabetes and obesity, and a woman experiencing a high-risk pregnancy may have some issues with home birth.

“If mom has complications, it makes it almost impossible because she needs to be where equipment is available just in case things take a turn for the worst,” Davis said.

Another potential roadblock--costs associated with having a home birth.

Davis said because doulas are not included in Mississippi’s Medicaid coverage, many families cannot afford a midwife or doula and will choose to give birth at a hospital instead.

Even if the mother has a hospital birth, Davis is still by their side, advocating for them.

“We go into labor with them,” Davis said. “I turn the bathroom area into a sauna, I get it cleaned and disinfected. We set up a birthing plan, we want to know what they like. We also train in aromatherapy, they may want a certain scent, they may want music. We go through the birthing plan with the doctors, we help the moms understand that we want the vernix to stay on the baby after they deliver. “

Whichever method is chosen, Thigpen said it’s important for mothers to do their research.

“Don’t do it out of fear,” Thigpen said. ”There are still wonderful doctors, fantastic hospital staff who are willing to work with you. so, if you are considering a home birth, it needs to be because you’ve looked into it, you’ve done your research, you know that you’re low risk and it’s something that you feel very confident and comfortable with.”

The Mississippi Department of Health and the University of Mississippi Medical Center released a joint statement on home births during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

UMMC released its current visitation policy.

Click here to view Baptist Memorial Hospital’s visitation policies.

St. Dominic Hospital also released a statement on its current visitation policy.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, currently one support person is allowed to accompany a mother during labor, delivery and postpartum stay. Masks are required for everyone entering the hospital, and those scheduled for deliveries will be tested for COVID-19 before admission. Our dedicated team of physicians, nurses and caregivers continue to provide compassion and supportive care to each mother and baby during this special time, and families are encouraged to stay connected via mobile technology such as FaceTime. We even have mobile devices for patient use, if needed.”

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