Stop Splitting Newborns From Moms With COVID-19

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FILE PHOTO: Newborn babies at a hospital.

As part of Israel’s general idiocy and irrationality in dealing with the coronavirus, newborn babies are being separated from mothers who have the virus, even if the mothers have no symptoms, and sometimes even when they’re merely suspected of having the disease.

This separation can last for up to two weeks, according to reports by new mothers in hospitals nationwide that were collected by the organization Zero Separation. Yet separation violates the Health Ministry’s regulations and is also counter to the position of many official bodies, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the British Association of General Pediatrics and the European Pediatric Association.

Admittedly, there are also organizations that do advise separating mothers with the coronavirus from their babies, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But all these organizations think the decision should be left up to the mother.

Moreover, hospitals are obligated to give new mothers authoritative information on the subject so that their choice will constitute informed consent. Yet in most cases, even when the mother is given a choice rather than being issued orders, she must make this choice without any information.

To obtain informed consent for any medical procedure, including separating babies from their mothers – which is an extreme step – it’s essential to give the patients full information. This includes information on how the mother should protect herself while caring for her child if she chooses to remain with him.

In the past, newborn babies were routinely separated from their mothers. But research has proven that forced separation harms both the mother and the child.

What is known as “zero separation” is essential for mother and child to bond properly, as well as for the likelihood that the mother will be able to nurse the baby and for the mental and physical health of both parties. Therefore, hospitals usually try to minimize separations between new mothers and their babies as much as possible.

Or at least, that was true before the coronavirus came along.

Last week, the Facebook page “Zero separation – your right from the moment of birth” posted about a mother who gave birth at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and was separated from her newborn because she was diagnosed as a coronavirus patient during the birth. She was transferred to the coronavirus wing, while the baby was put into isolation. But she said the coronavirus ward wasn’t set up to handle women post-childbirth and therefore lacked the equipment needed to treat her.

This post garnered hundreds of shares and responses. And a day after it went up, the hospital’s spokesperson said Ichilov had finally opened a dedicated ward for new mothers with the virus, so that henceforth, it would be possible to prevent separating mothers from their newborns.

This is obviously good news, but any rejoicing must be limited. Firstly, that’s because what finally changed the hospital’s policy was a viral post on social media. It wasn’t scrupulous from the start about upholding new mothers’ rights, nor did it accede to repeated pleas by journalists and human rights organizations.

UNICEF and Zero Separation both said that over the past few weeks, they have sent repeated requests and demands to many hospitals, including Ichilov, as well as to the Health Ministry. Yet these efforts were to no avail.

Moreover, according to Zero Separation, other hospitals – including Soroka in Be’er Sheva and Western Galilee in Nahariya – are still forcing mothers with the coronavirus to separate from their newborns.

The eruption of a pandemic is admittedly a fairly new event, but riding roughshod over the rights of new mothers is all too common. It’s only the excuse that changes.

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