Giving babies a healthy start during perilous times

Midwife Kathleen McDonald holds a baby she helped deliver at the Côte-des-Neiges Birthing Centre
Midwife Kathleen McDonald holds a baby she helped deliver at the Côte-des-Neiges Birthing Centre

Even a pandemic doesn’t stop babies from entering the world. That’s why midwives at the Côte-des-Neiges Birthing Centre are taking innovative steps to provide newborns and mothers with the care they need during these extraordinary times.

Since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, more than 50 babies have been born at the Birthing Centre in CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. “Life goes on,” says Maëcha Nault, Head of Midwife Services. “We’ve managed to keep welcoming babies safely, while maintaining a very human touch.”

Midwives Kathleen McDonald and Yvette Munezero at the Côte-des-Neiges Birthing Centre
Midwives Kathleen McDonald (right) and Yvette Munezero at the Côte-des-Neiges Birthing Centre

Like virtually every facet of health care during the pandemic, the centre has had to adjust to heightened safety requirements. With home births suspended, all deliveries have shifted to the Côte-des-Neiges facility, where disinfecting—a stringent pre-COVID requirement—has become “obsessive,” says Ms. Nault. The 15 midwives now practice social distancing and wear protective gear during labour.

To limit the potential for infection, telehealth has replaced some in-person consultations. Of the 10 pre-natal appointments that have traditionally been held face to face with expectant mothers at the centre, four are now done by phone or with the Zoom teleconferencing app.

Maëcha Nault, Head of Midwife Services at the Côte-des-Neiges Birthing Centre
Maëcha Nault, Head of Midwife Services at the Côte-des-Neiges Birthing Centre

The centre, better known as the Maison de naissance, has also launched group Zoom get-togethers for mothers-to-be. Ms. Nault says sharing common experiences is important and, not surprisingly, the coronavirus is the main topic of conversation.

“There are a lot of anxiety and worries,” Ms. Nault says. “Everyone is asking, ‘What kind of world am I bringing my child into?’ We try as best as we can to build the women’s confidence.”

Midwife Kathleen McDonald conducts Zoom consultations with women during pregnancy and after giving birth. (Midwives provide care during pregnancy, labour and for six weeks postpartum).

“It’s almost like being there, even if you’re not there,” Ms. McDonald says. “With Zoom, we’ve maintained as much, if not more, contact. It’s obviously not the same as being there in person, but we’re doing the best with the resources we have.”

The virtual postpartum visits enable her to get a look at the newborns, evaluate possible health issues such as jaundice, and assist a mother with breastfeeding, she says. All but one of the three to four postpartum consultations with the Birthing Centre are currently done remotely.

Despite the added difficulties these days, being a midwife means participating in something deeply rewarding, Ms. McDonald says.

“I feel privileged. I get to go into work and be part of something beautiful amid so much chaos. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, but one thing is sure: babies are coming. There is a constant in all that.”

The midwives in CIUSSS West-Central Montreal have also stepped into important, new roles outside the Birthing Centre. They are visiting homes that are served by the network to check on the health of newborns after they leave hospital. Many CLSC nurses, who would normally carry out these visits, have been reassigned to long-term care homes to help grapple with COVID outbreaks.

The CIUSSS’s Birthing Centre was the first in Quebec to come forward to fill this need, and others have since followed. “We felt it was super-important to support the various departments of our CIUSSS and work in partnership with them to offer as many services to the public as possible,” Ms. Nault says.

Yvette Munezero is one of three midwives from the Birthing Centre doing the post-natal home visits. For one, she is providing a vital lifeline for new mothers at a time when their social and family contacts, as well as community health services, have been reduced by COVID. Some mothers in the Côte-des-Neiges district are new Canadians with fewer resources to rely upon.

Ms. Munezero says she also became involved to offer the best possible start for babies. “They didn’t choose to arrive during a pandemic. Their life story deserves to be as beautiful as anyone else’s on Earth,” she says.

The babies’ arrival is a testament to the tenacity of life, whatever the circumstances. “Birth remains a magic moment in life, with or without a pandemic,” Ms. Munezero says.

“I hope these babies won’t find the world is that bad. We’ll get through this. We’re stronger than COVID.”