Can I Give Birth If I’m Sick?

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Many expectant parents make a birth plan for the Big Day. You might have ideas about what pain management you prefer, whether you want music, and other details about labor and birth. Some parts of labor are out of your control, though. Have you considered what it might be like if you go into labor when you’re under the weather?

Avoid Getting Sick

Ideally, of course, you’ll be in great health when you go into labor. One of the best ways to do that is to get your flu shot. Influenza is a much more serious illness than a common cold, especially for newborns. A flu vaccine is safe for your and your unborn baby, and it can do a lot to protect you both. Flu season goes from October all the way until March, so it’s absolutely worth getting the shot, if you haven’t already.

Washing hands regularly and avoiding contact with people who are sick are other good practices to stay healthy while pregnant.

Pack Your Bag

Your grab-and-go hospital bag should have all the essentials you need for labor and birth. If you’re feeling sick, add these supplies:

  • Soft tissues: A dripping nose is the last thing you need to deal with during contractions. In case you find the hospital tissue supply too scratchy for constant nose-blowing, go ahead and pack a box of the softest, most lux tissues you can find.
  • Honey or lozenges: If you have a C-section, you’ll have a fresh incision at your bikini line. Now imagine how that wound will feel if you’ve got a cough. Not great! Your doctor will prescribe medications as needed, but a spoonful of honey or a soothing lozenge to suck are non-pharmaceutical strategies to ease a sore throat.
  • Flavor packets for water. In many cases, fluids are allowed during labor, and fluids are also strongly recommended when sick. If water gets boring, it’s nice to add some flavoring.

What to Expect During Labor

You may need to wear a mask on your face while medical staff transport you through the hospital. Everyone is working to minimize the spread of germs.

The medical providers attending your delivery may also wear masks and protective gowns. They may also take additional precautions, such as putting you in a private room to limit your contact with other laboring moms.

Being sick saps your energy, and labor demands a lot of energy. If possible, drink plenty of fluids, and ask your providers what options for position and pain management will give you the best chance to rest when you can and keep up your energy for when it’s time to push.

Birth and Bonding

The flu can present a serious risk to a brand-new baby. The CDC currently recommends that mothers who have the flu at birth (or are suspected to) be separated from their newborns temporarily.

It’s understandable to feel frustrated or worried about this! Of course you want to bond with your baby. Ultimately, it is your decision, not your doctor’s, of what is right for you and your new baby. Your doctor’s job is to give you the best information they can on the benefits and risks of the situation, and make recommendations to minimize the risk of your baby developing serious, flu-related complications. Some options they may discuss with you include:

  1. Keeping the baby in the nursery, rather than rooming in.
  2. If no nursery is available (or you exercise your right to refuse this advice), using a barrier like a curtain to separate the baby’s bassinet from your bed.
  3. Having a healthy partner or caregiver handle as much baby care as possible.
  4. If you plan to breastfeed, the medical team may recommend pumping milk and letting a healthy caregiver feed the baby until you are feeling better. Again, you have the right to make the final decision, and the doctor should also take into account the importance of bonding and establishing a milk supply. Sickness often needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, rather than relying on one procedure for every mother and baby.

If you have a cold, rather than the flu, you may find that policies are somewhat more relaxed, or doctors may discuss similar separation recommendations with you.

Giving birth while sick isn’t fun, but you can do it, and you can work with your medical team to determine the best plan for you and your baby. In most cases, within a few days, you’ll be feeling better and ready to enjoy time with your newborn.

Jessica Sillers
Jessica Sillers is a parenting and finance writer whose work has been featured in Pregnancy & Newborn, Headspace, and more. As a new mom herself, she’s passionate about helping other parents find the community and support they need. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading, and hiking.

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