A mother who tested positive for Covid-19 days before she delivered spent a harrowing two weeks worried she would pass the virus to her newborn.
It was an emotional nightmare for Soumya Devi, who stayed away from the infant after she was born to limit exposure. She restricted her time with the baby to short intervals when she bottle-fed while wearing a mask.
The 35-year-old was admitted to the emergency section of a Dubai hospital on March 7 with a high fever and headache, and subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.
Two days later, her baby was delivered by emergency Caesarean section and to her relief, the infant tested negative.
The baby has been named Durga, meaning invincible, aptly reflecting the trial the family faced.
“It has been very painful and stressful. Mentally and physically it was very difficult,” said Ms Devi, a nurse from Kerala, India who works in the trauma and neurosurgery section of a city hospital.
“No family member could be near me because I had Covid. The doctors told me to be careful with the baby. They said it was safe to breastfeed but I expressed milk to be given in a bottle because I was too scared I would infect her.”
As per World Health Organisation guidelines, mothers with Covid-19 can nurse infants since there is no evidence the virus can be transmitted through breastfeeding.
But the family decided to be extra cautious.
Ms Devi’s mother and eight-year-old daughter also contracted the disease. They did not require hospitalisation and recovered at home with mild symptoms.
Her husband tested negative but could not be with her in hospital due to safety rules.
Instead, Hari Prasad slept in his vehicle for days in the hospital car park to be near his wife.
“I didn’t go home to sleep. I just sat in my car. She was inside and I was outside and there was nobody to help us. My friends called to chat but nobody could come because my family has Covid,” said the 40-year-old, who drives heavy vehicles in a registration and testing facility.
“The tension I had that day; I will not ever forget in my life when the nurse called and said Soumya needed a Caesarean.”
Tears flowed when he was permitted to stand outside the labour room.
The baby was placed in a special care unit as a precaution. To keep her safe, Mr Hari could only observe Durga and was not allowed to go near her for a few days.
“When she was born and I heard the sound of her cries, I was also crying,” he said.
“I just said thanks to God; I cried and cried when I saw my child.”
Keen to show his wife some support, he wore protective gear and convinced the staff to allow him to stand at a distance and wave to her after the delivery.
“I wanted just to say ‘hi’ and ask if she was okay. I felt relaxed after I saw her,” Mr Hari said.
Ms Devi tested positive again before being discharged from the hospital on March 14 and was recommended to self-isolate at home for 10 days. She was told to wear a mask when near her new-born at all times.
Back at home, Mr Hari took care of the child while the rest of the family completed their mandatory quarantine.
Ms Devi had her hands full, coping with fatigue triggered by Covid-19 adding to the physical toll on her body due to the Caesarean.
Recovery usually takes longer with a C-section with mothers dealing with cramps and pain.
She relied on chats with another mum who went through a similar experience.
“My friend gave me emotional support. She explained how I should not be panicky and worry so much. She kept saying my baby would be safe,” Ms Devi said.
She is thrilled to finally be able to cradle baby Durga without fear.
“Not feeding the baby - that was the most difficult,” she said.
“I want to tell other mothers there is no need to be so scared if they become Covid-positive. When I was alone I realised there were so many things I could manage on my own. I feel stronger now.”
Dr Adel Alsisi, chief medical officer, Prime Healthcare Group, said Covid-positive mothers could nurse the infant, but must take safety precautions such as wear a mask and wash their hands regularly.
“The WHO regulation we follow is that the mother can start natural breastfeeding because there is no proof the virus is transmitted from mother’s milk to the new baby,” he said.
“The mother needs help. Even for a normal delivery, both mother and baby need care. So if the mother is Covid-positive, not just the baby, the mother also needs full attention at home.”