Having my first baby in the NICU during the COVID-19 pandemic

Oct. 12, 2020 / By Jacee Robison, RN, MS

The beginning of this year was unusual for all of us. It wasn’t a shock for me to be in the hospital though, as I was pregnant and about to deliver. What was surprising was my experience being the patient rather than the nurse, being informed there were complications with my childbirth requiring a C-section, and having a baby that needed NICU support on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At first, my family was able to visit the baby and me in the hospital, but as the days went on the visitation policies changed. The hospital began by limiting visitors to only grandparents and parents. By the third day of my stay, the hospital no longer allowed any visits to the NICU or postpartum unit except for spouses.

I welcomed these changes to visitation policies because I knew they were put in place to protect my newborn. It was difficult for family members who were unable to see the baby or me, but they all understood it was necessary to avoid spreading the virus. Parents were still allowed to visit their babies, but only if they weren’t having symptoms or sick. It was very difficult when I wasn’t able to visit my baby for the first part of one day because I got sick from taking pain medication. Also, even when allowed, the only way to visit my baby was to make the journey down to the NICU, which was difficult after having a C-section. The NICU allows parents to call and get a status of how your baby is doing, but I knew the nurses were busy and I couldn’t help but think it would take time away from their other patients.

Feeling very isolated and disconnected from my baby and family, I started thinking about all the technology we have and how it could potentially help other new mothers in a similar situation. Also, I knew there were other patients in the hospital that were not allowed to have visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic. My mind shifted to things we could do to bridge these physical limitations, which became even more important when I was discharged home, but my baby needed to stay 4-5 more days in the NICU.

Now that my baby and I are home and well, I think about all the capabilities I have with a simple smart phone. Outside of health care, I can: research questions, make photobooks, order groceries or food from my favorite restaurant to be delivered to my house, video chat with family members that live in another state, etc. There are countless apps and services to help mitigate the disruption of COVID-19 on our lives. Why can’t we utilize that technology for patients in the hospital, or even health care providers separated from patients by physical distance? As an example, how about a way for new mothers to view their babies in the NICU virtually? Before the pandemic, telehealth visits were available, but since the pandemic they have been necessary. Perhaps smarter deployment of technology—incorporating them into workflow—could help not only during the pandemic but persist after to achieve a more comprehensive standard of care.

Jacee Robison, MS, RN, is a nurse informaticist with the Clinical Terminology group at 3M Health Information Systems.