In what should come as a relief to many expectant couples, New York women who give birth in a hospital can now expect to have a partner or support individual accompany them for the duration of their entire stay, including recovery, according to a state announcement released on Wednesday.
The coronavirus crisis has upended the traditional birthing experience for many couples in New York City, with some hospitals initially banning partners and support individuals in an effort to protect hospital workers from the risk of infection. In March, Governor Andrew Cuomo responded with an executive order requiring all hospitals to allow one person to support a woman throughout labor and delivery.
But couples in New York City have still faced lengthy separations, including exclusion from postpartum units. In New York City, Mount Sinai and New York-Presbyterian, two of the largest hospital networks, have prohibited support individuals from accompanying women into postpartum areas. There have been reports of individuals who said that they were prohibited from entering the hospital prior to delivery because their partners were having planned cesarean sections.
The governor will now clarify his previous executive order to state that "duration of stay" includes labor, delivery and the postpartum period, which includes recovery. It will also be revised to allow doulas to accompany women in addition to a partner during labor and delivery. The order will note that exceptions can be made "only in limited circumstances and based on clinical guidance," including the availability of personal protective equipment.
The state's clarification on support individuals followed a report from a maternity task force helmed by the secretary to the governor, Melissa DeRosa. DeRosa had also worked on the initial executive order that sought to ensure that women would have support during labor.
"In the midst of this pandemic many women are struggling with additional stress and anxiety caused by the uncertainty of this virus and how it might affect their pregnancy or birthing plan," Cuomo said in a statement. "I'm grateful to the task force for their quick work, and I am accepting all their recommendations which will help tackle the problems that so many women are facing and ensure safer, healthier pregnancies for all."
Cuomo said he plans to adopt all of the task force recommendations, including signing an executive order to allow for the immediate establishment of more alternative birthing centers, which often rely on midwives. Demand for such facilities have surged due to fear of exposure to coronavirus at hospitals and a desire by women to have their partners or additional support during the entire birthing and postpartum process.
Also going forward, all pregnant individuals and their partners accompanying pregnant individuals will be tested for COVID-19 as long as the tests are available.
The state Department of Health will also work with SUNY Albany to study the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy with a focus on reducing the racial disparities in maternal mortality. Nationwide, black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes compared to their white counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Doulas, in particular, have argued that the effort to limit or ban support individuals in New York City hospitals would have disproportionately harmful effects on black and Latino women.
Jesse Pournaras, a New York City doula who actively petitioned the state to allow support individuals into postpartum and recovery units, praised the task force and the governor, calling his decisions "a win for maternal health and all pregnant people in the city."
She said that in the wake of new restrictions on partners within New York City hospitals, some women have been fleeing the city to give birth outside the state. Others have tried to transfer to NYU Langone in Manhattan or Lenox Hill, two hospitals which have continued to allow partners stay for the entire birth and postpartum period.
According to Pournaras, the state has never before spelled out such specific rights for pregnant women, leaving the policies up to individual hospitals.
"It's indicative of how little we care about women's issues," she said. "And pregnancy is fundamentally a woman’s issue."