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COVID-19 & New Mothers: ‘There's a lot of guilt with the mothers.’

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Mu Health Care
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Dr. Olugbemisola Obi is the medical director for the NICU, or neonatal intensive care unit, at MU Health Care in Columbia.

She says the hospital has seen some mothers lately who are very sick from COVID-19 – so sick in fact that their babies are delivered pre-term. She spoke about the impact that having a premature baby in the NICU – while also being COVID-19 positive –can impact a family.

The CDC now recommends the COVID-19 vaccination for anyone who is currently pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant, or might become pregnant in the future.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Dr. Olugbemisola Obi: Just having a baby in the NICU is a challenge in itself, you know? The time of having a baby – it's supposed to be a joyful time, right? You know, the whole family is supposed to be there supporting this couple, you know.

But at times when it does not occur, according to what that plan is, there's always a disruption. And we know for a fact, especially for our moms in the NICU that mood disorders are quite frequent – just for having a premature baby.

Now you're talking about mom with COVID, who is probably on the respirator, who is on lots of drips, and so a lot of times when they're delivered – the mothers aren't even aware, maybe the decision was made to deliver while they are sedated, on the respirator.

So, either the support person is having to make some of these very hard decisions, and so sometimes it can take about a week or two, before they're even aware that they had a baby.

Sometimes, I mean… it definitely disrupts that bonding that the mother should have, and then you have to also deal with the aftereffects – when they do get better – there's a lot of guilt with the mothers, you know, of not being there and two, could they have exposed their babies to this.

"Ultimately, we see mothers when they're getting better. We see the light that comes in their eyes when we're allowed to do skin-to-skin for the first time. I think that in itself is a mood elevator."
Dr. Olugbemisola Obi

And a lot of times I hear those reports about how difficult it is for those families in adjusting because they weren't there from the beginning.

As a NICU in itself, we are proponents of breastfeeding – apart from being a treatment for some of our babies, it also emphasizes all the other things we've talked about bonding.

The other difficult thing is when the support person or the father of the baby also has an exposure and also comes down with COVID at the same time – neither one of them can visit, it's very challenging sometimes for them to find an individual that they are trust, who can come visit their baby.

So, they always wonder, “Oh, my baby's over there alone,” and that's heart wrenching for us too, but it’s one of those things where, you know, we have to ensure safety above all.

Thankfully, the NICU nurse(s) are very dedicated to what they do. They – if there is a baby in the NICU that doesn't have a visitor, they will take that job to heart, give the baby all the love they need, and, in time, the mother, the parents can come and visit.

Ultimately, we see mothers when they're getting better. We see the light that comes in their eyes when we're allowed to do skin-to-skin for the first time. I think that in itself is a mood elevator.

I think now, one of the things that our OB colleagues have shared with us, is that they are advocating vaccination through first, second and third trimester of pregnancy,

They're actually going to begin to they've actually started recommending that to all their prenatal patients. Basically, MU is making the stand that we are going to recommend that because we see how sick our mothers and how much of a stressor it is on the family as a whole.

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Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.