HARLINGEN — While pregnancy and childbirth are most often joyous times when families prepare to welcome a new addition to the world, the recent uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may have some mothers experiencing concern.
However, local obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Uvaldo Cantu said area healthcare providers are taking precautions to ensure that women in the Rio Grande Valley continue to have access to the high-quality healthcare they need, when they need it.
For most pregnant women, such measures start with continuing to provide safe access to vital prenatal screenings and check-ups, Cantu said.
“We are utilizing screening guidelines, including temperature checks, hand-sanitizing for patients, and asking about travel history. We also mandate the wearing of masks, and we limit the number of support individuals that can come along for appointments to one,” he said. “We’re also sanitizing our exam rooms after each patient is seen. In addition, we have a designated area where any patients with suspicious symptoms are immediately sequestered and evaluated separately from other patients.”
To help guard against potential COVID-19 exposure and to limit travel for pregnant patients, Cantu said obstetricians are encouraging expectant mothers to track vital signs and fetal movement at home between visits.
“We’re also recommending that patients buy blood pressure cuffs to use at home, and we’re using very strict monitoring of fetal movements at home,” he said. “We still recommend the continued attendance of office visits as long as the obstetrician feels it’s appropriate, especially for high risk patients, including those with diabetes, high blood pressure, or mothers carrying twins.”
While local hospitals have enacted special visitation policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cantu made it clear that expectant mothers should not be fearful that they will have to face childbirth alone at Valley Baptist-Harlingen.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, expectant mothers can have one support person with them through the entire labor and delivery process at Valley Baptist,” he said. “Our labor and delivery physicians, nurses, and staff are all fully aware that giving birth is a most precious occasion, and we will make sure that new mothers are comforted by their chosen support individuals. In the event that a new mother requires a Caesarean section delivery, her support person will be right by her side in the operating room.”
Cantu said that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to raise a variety of concerns for local pregnant women, he has worked to put expectant mothers at ease through knowledge and education.
“One of the most frequent questions I get from my patients is about how they can protect themselves from the virus,” he said. “The most important step is to practice excellent hand hygiene by frequently washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, avoid touching your face – especially your eyes, mouth, and nose – limit gatherings, and stay home as much as possible.”
Cantu went on to say that the COVID-19 safety measures recommended to the general public by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention apply to pregnant women as well.
“Social distancing helps to limit the spread of the virus. It is OK to go for walks for exercise, but try to maintain six feet of distance from anyone who doesn’t live with you. Wear a mask in public, especially in places where it is difficult to observe social distancing. If you have a cold or mild cough, stay home and limit exposure to other people. Cough or sneeze into a tissue you can discard immediately or into your elbow.”
Other questions surround travel and the time-honored tradition of baby showers. Cantu warned that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, pregnant women should continue to take extra precautions to safeguard their health.
“I recommend avoiding all travel at this time, and although baby showers are joyous occasions, because the CDC recommends limiting social gatherings at all times, I think it would be better to reschedule baby showers for a later date,” he said.
While researchers are still working hard to learn more about COVID-19, early studies show that expectant mothers should not be worried that they or their babies are at higher risk of either contracting COVID-19 or experiencing severe complications from the virus, Cantu said. There also appears to be a low risk of the virus passing from mother to baby during childbirth, he said.
“Given that this is a new virus, little is known about its impact on pregnant women. At this time, no evidence shows that being pregnant increases a woman’s risk of getting COVID-19 or that there is a greater risk of developing severe symptoms just because a woman is pregnant,” he said. “Current data suggests a pregnant woman’s risk is the same as the general population of the same age range. Also, an increased risk of fetal malformation or miscarriage has not been documented in pregnant women who contract COVID-19, according to the CDC.”
In addition to maternity services, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen continues to provide access to comprehensive women’s services. To ensure safe access to women’s healthcare at Valley Baptist-Harlingen during the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital has utilized a wide array of safety measures built upon deep clinical expertise in addition to continuous incorporation of CDC, CMS, and state recommendations.
These measures, which have been labeled “COVID SAFETY STANDARDS” should help put area women at ease as they continue to seek healthcare at Valley Baptist, said Cantu, Valley Baptist-Harlingen’s chief of staff and a physician with more than 30 years of experience in providing women’s healthcare.
“Our priority in the hospital and in our offices is always the health and well-being of our patients, employees, and our communities. We strive to be a positive force for safety in every community we serve. We strongly believe that you should not be afraid to come to our hospitals just because we continue to care for COVID-19 patients,” he said. “Valley Baptist Health System has had effective COVID-19 safety standards in place since the beginning of this pandemic, and we also feel that we have taken many steps to ensure that the community’s risk of being exposed to COVID-19 at Valley Baptist is as low possible, and we believe that the hospital is one of the safest places to be at this time.”
Cantu said that because of these safety measures, it is important for local women to not let fear of COVID-19 delay important health screenings or medical procedures to treat chronic conditions or pain.
“Women should not be fearful or apprehensive about resuming their health screenings and gynecological visits. All patients with a history of abnormal tests, or patients with a history of ovarian cysts or fibroid issues should not be fearful about returning to the office for additional work-ups or to the hospital for care,” he said. “We continue to provide our community with the highest quality of healthcare in the safest environment.”