Legislators from North Jersey introduced two bills aimed at giving support to expectant mothers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
As the outbreak spreads across the country, it has left pregnant women concerned how the virus could affect their babies and wondering if hospital maternity wards would experience a shortage of beds, staff or supplies.
Hospitals have been updating protocol as the pandemic worsens in the U.S., with some resorting to strict policies that force a mother to deliver and recover alone.
Ensuring a Support Person
The first bil advancing in the state Legislature on May 4 ensures hospitals will allow expectant mothers to have one support person in the delivery room during childbirth.
“No one woman should be forced to deliver alone,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. “This legislation will ensure that all women have the right to a support person when going into delivery.”
In late March, the state Health Department issued an order guaranteeing pregnant women be permitted to have someone with them. In her order, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli wrote that a “support person is essential to patient care throughout labor, delivery and the immediate postpartum period” and “hospitals are required to allow one designated support person to be with the expectant mother during these times.”
“This bill is not limited to the outbreak of COVID-19 but instead codifies this right permanently,” stated Huttle. “While we hope that the spread of coronavirus in New Jersey is a once-in-a-generation occurrence, the codification of this right will help to ensure that New Jersey is better prepared to support expecting mothers no matter the situation.”
The bill approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee requires guidance to be adopted through official rules and regulations.
“Research shows women with social support during childbirth tend to have shorter duration of labor, control their pain better, and have a reduced need for medical intervention,” said co-sponsor Raj Mukherji. “In addition to providing physical and emotional comfort during and after labor, support persons also reduce maternal mortality rates and alleviate the burden on hospitals by alerting staff when the patient is unable to do so. Policy should follow the science.”
A second Assembly bill seeks to make it easier for expectant mothers to give birth at home by requiring insurance carriers to provide coverage.
Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, the bill’s sponsor, said in a press release the pandemic “has only further emphasized the need for women to have alternative birthing arrangements if they so choose.”
“As a mother who personally prefers natural birthing methods, I believe every woman deserves the right to choose where and how she will have her baby. By guaranteeing coverage for home birth-related services, it will become a more realistic option both during and after this pandemic,” she added.
According to Timberlake, the legislation is a way to ensure home births are an option for more than just the wealthiest mothers who can afford to pay a doula or midwife.
The Assemblywoman believes home births “can provide a more comfortable and convenient setting for mothers, while making it easier for her support system of friends and relatives to assist her.”
Rachel Connolly Kwock of the Northern NJ Doula Network said, “During this crisis, hospitals are not necessarily the safest place for a healthy pregnant person—especially for black women who already have higher maternal mortality rates and who now find themselves in a healthcare system overwhelmed by a pandemic.”
Even prior to the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, the number of births taking place annually outside of hospitals was growing. A recent study found a 77% increase between 2004 and 2017—despite the lack of insurance coverage for at-home delivery.