- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Babies born prematurely face a number of difficulties — and COVID-19 only adds another layer of complication and worry, Susan and Matt Leas say.

The Occoquan, Virginia, couple’s twins, Sophia and Patrick, were born around the 25th week of pregnancy on March 21 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Patrick tipped the scales at 2 pounds 8 ounces, and Sophia at just 1 pound 11 ounces. Hospital staff quickly placed them on ventilators and moved them to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where they were monitored, tested and treated for four months. Patrick was allowed to go home on July 23, and Sophia on Aug. 6 after fighting a couple of bouts of bacterial infections.

“It was terrifying every single day because, if one of us got it [COVID-19] and we had to self-quarantine, we couldn’t go visit the babies,” said Mr. Leas, 37. “Neither one of us could go and visit them and then they’d be at the hospital alone and afraid — by themselves … It was absolutely a daunting time and it still is. We’re still being very cautious.”

Through the March of Dimes, the Leases have participated in virtual support groups; they also have connected with a music therapist through Inova Fairfax Hospital.

“I think it is fair to say that there is a general sense of stress and anxiety for communities around the coronavirus, as well as uncertainty about what the world will look like over the next few months,” said Mallory Mpare, director of maternal infant health for March of Dimes in the District. “This stress and anxiety extends to our moms, especially new ones who often experience challenges with postpartum depression or anxiety.”



Ms. Mpare said her nonprofit, which focuses on the health of moms and babies, recommends that new mothers “remain in contact with your provider to ensure your physical recovery is going as expected, as well as help you identify mental health challenges you might experience and connect you to resources, such as therapy via telemedicine.”

The March of Dimes has shifted to offer more online educational programming that is free to the public such as its “Healthy Moms, Strong Babies” Facebook Live events. Its NICU family support programs are working to provide support to families so that they feel less isolated.

For weeks after the twins’ birth, Mrs. Leas and her husband could not hold their babies as doctors treated them in the NICU.

“When they were born, especially because they were born preterm and we knew it was going to be a long road in the NICU, I was just really craving having visitors and having family help us get through that time and at least have my parents be able to come in and meet them, but they just couldn’t,” said Mrs. Leas, 31.

Newborns can catch COVID-19 after being in close contact with an infected person. Some babies have tested positive for the virus shortly after birth, but it is unknown when they got the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most newborns diagnosed with COVID-19 had mild or no symptoms and made a full recovery.

Pregnant women could be at an increased risk for severe illness from the coronavirus, and moms-to-be with COVID-19 could have an increased risk of “adverse pregnancy outcomes” such as preterm birth. While some pregnant women with COVID-19 have had preterm births, it’s not clear if the early births were due to the virus, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says on its website.

“During COVID times, the concerns pregnant mothers have are multiple. One of the most common concerns is the risk of passing COVID-19 to their unborn baby if they become infected,” said Dr. Tamika Auguste, chair of the OBGYN Practice Council at Medstar Health, noting the data is limited and that transmission of coronavirus to a fetus appears uncommon. “The other big concerns are around support during labor and what that looks like with the changes in the number of people allowed in the labor room. Some new moms also have concerns about the possibility of their newborn contracting COVID-19 after birth.”

Since Mrs. Leas gave birth during the early days of the pandemic, she said she did not get tested for the coronavirus. Doctors don’t know why she gave birth prematurely and found no signs of infection.

A few weeks since leaving the hospital, the twins appear to be doing well. Patrick is almost 13 pounds and Sophia weighs more than 9 pounds, Mr. Leas said.

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