Praveen K. Chandrasekharan, MD.

Strategies about keeping childbirth safe during the pandemic — by Praveen K. Chandrasekharan, MD, co-author — are attracting attention worldwide.

Neonatologist Devises Options for Childbirth in Pandemic

Published October 7, 2020

Along with international co-authors, Praveen K. Chandrasekharan, MD, has outlined the best approaches for handling the delivery of newborns in cases where the mother tests positive for COVID-19 or is suspected of having the virus.

“Both parents and physicians must have an understanding of the situation and take adequate precautions to prevent transmission of the disease to both newborn and health care providers. ”
Assistant professor of pediatrics
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The paper, titled “Neonatal Resuscitation and Postresuscitation Care of Infants Born to Mothers with Suspected or Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 Infection,” has attracted international attention. Since publication, it has been cited dozens of times, notably in the European Resuscitation Council COVID-19 guidelines executive summary.

Best Protocols for Delivery Room Were Needed

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is unclear if pregnant women are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 or if they are more at risk for developing severe illness if they do contract it. In addition, it remains uncertain whether a COVID-positive woman can transmit the disease to her unborn baby.

In any event, resuscitating a baby born to a mom suspected of, or positive for, COVID-19 poses risks to both the infant and health care providers. But early on in the pandemic, there was limited literature to direct neonatal teams to the best protocols to use in the delivery room.

“The importance of using personal protective equipment when resuscitating a newborn in the delivery room, and the concept of shared decision-making, are the most crucial aspects explained in our article,” says Chandrasekharan, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics.

“Both parents and physicians must have an understanding of the situation and take adequate precautions to prevent transmission of the disease to both newborn and health care providers.”

Article’s Options Used to Develop Guidelines

The options outlined in the article have been used to develop guidelines in different institutions; they have had an impact around the world.

The paper makes four key points:

  • The risk of transmission remains unclear.
  • Transmission from family members and providers to neonates is possible.
  • Optimal personal protective equipment (airborne vs. droplet/contact precautions) for providers is crucial to prevent transmission.
  • Parents should be engaged in shared decision-making, with options for rooming in, skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding.

“It is imperative to reduce rising fears and optimize strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to neonates and health care workers,” the paper states.

The authors consulted with neonatologists from around the world, including China, Australia, New Zealand, India, Spain and Italy.

“Based on input and feedback from different institutions, we developed three approaches, with options for management to select based on available resources,” Chandrasekharan says.

Three Levels of Care

The approaches to caring for at-risk neonates before birth, during delivery and after discharge include options that are stringent, moderate and more relaxed.

Keeping the mother masked, ensuring there is proper personal protective equipment for health care workers and transporting the newborn in a covered isolette are elements of all three options.

The three approaches “provide flexibility and allow perinatal health care providers and parents to determine the best option based on the assessment of risks and benefits, available personnel, space, caseloads and resources,” the paper states.

The paper urges pre-delivery preparation involving in-depth assessment of the mother’s health and the age of the fetus at the time of COVID-19 exposure and at delivery.

Each approach offers specific guidance on various aspects of pre-, mid- and post-delivery care, including visitor policy during delivery; the location where neonatal resuscitation takes place; timing of cord clamping; skin-to-skin contact; placement of the infant after birth; COVID-19 testing of the infant; nutritional support; the visitation policy for the baby; discharge plan; and follow-up plans.

Protocols for Caring for Babies With COVID-19

The paper also includes suggested protocols for caring for babies who develop early onset (within the first week) or late onset (within the first three weeks) COVID-19 themselves.

The paper notes that ideally each medical facility would have a dedicated team of health care providers to take care of COVID-positive or possible mothers-to-be. It encourages medical centers to arrange for additional delivery rooms and personnel, and to conduct simulated COVID-19-related deliveries to understand logistics, workflow, use of safety equipment and transition from delivery room to nursery or neonatal intensive care unit.

While all of the cited precautions follow CDC guidelines that existed at the time of publication, the authors acknowledge that information about the novel coronavirus is constantly being updated; therefore, the best practices continue to evolve.

Chandrasekharan says the biggest challenges for caring for these patients will occur when mom and newborn are sent home because of the fluctuating rates of community transmission.

Published in American Journal of Perinatology

The paper was published online this past spring in the American Journal of Perinatology. It includes easy-to-follow infographics created at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. Chandrasekharan discusses the research with his co-authors in a podcast. A video abstract of the article is also available.

Chandrasekharan — who has research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Neonatal Resuscitation Program and the ZOLL Foundation — co-authored the paper with colleagues from California, Italy and Spain.

Co-authors on the article are:

  • Maximo Vento, MD, PhD, University and Polytechnic Hospital La Fe in Spain
  • Daniele Trevisanuto, MD, University-Hospital of Padova in Italy
  • Elizabeth Partridge, MD, MPH; Mark A. Underwood, MD; Jean Wiedeman, MD, PhD; all of the University of California, Davis
  • Anup Katheria, MD, Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns in California
  • Satyan Lakshminrusimha, MD, University of California, Davis