Women preparing to give birth at some hospitals in New York City will no longer have to labor alone, nor will they need to remain isolated from their partner or family while recovering in the hospital after delivery, state officials said.
Melissa DeRosa, the secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, announced an executive order would be issued on Saturday requiring all hospitals in New York, both public and private, to comply with the latest guidance issued by the New York State Department of Health.
The order is a response to a decision earlier this week by two major New York City hospital systems, NewYork-Presbyterian and Mount Sinai, to ban support people from labor and delivery rooms because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Women will not be forced to be alone when they are giving birth,” Ms. DeRosa said on Twitter shortly after the pending executive order was announced.
The Department of Health, the regulatory authority over hospitals, had notified hospitals on Friday that they were required to allow one person to accompany a woman throughout labor and delivery.
The NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital network, where about 25,000 infants are delivered each year, and the Mount Sinai Hospital System, both private, had instituted the ban on support persons in response to the coronavirus epidemic, resulting in an outcry from expectant parents, doulas and midwives, and a petition that has received more than 600,000 signatures.
A spokeswoman for NewYork-Presbyterian said in a statement on Saturday that it would comply with the executive order “effective immediately.”
“Our highest priority continues to be the safety and well-being of our patients, their families, and our staff,” the statement said.
And Renatt Brodsky, a spokeswoman for Mt. Sinai, said on Saturday that the hospital system would follow the executive order “effective today.”
“We have always — and will always — make these difficult decisions with the best of intentions and safety of the mother, baby and our staff as our guiding principle,” Ms. Brodsky said.
Dr. Christopher Zahn, the vice president of practice activities for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, emphasized the value of support persons in labor and delivery rooms in a statement on Friday.
“Evidence suggests that, in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by a partner or support personnel such as a doula is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor,” Dr. Zahn said.
He added, “Labor support can be particularly critical for women who already face health care disparities and other barriers to care.”
Jesse Pournaras, a New York City-based doula who brought the petition opposing the new policies, said the decision was a victory on behalf of women giving birth in New York City and beyond.
“It should set the precedent that laboring individuals are entitled to the support of their choosing in labor,” Ms. Pournaras said.
NewYork-Presbyterian changed its policies after pregnant women who were positive for Covid-19 but asymptomatic exposed more than 30 hospital workers to the virus.
Soon after the babies were delivered, the mothers’ conditions “deteriorated very quickly,” and the mothers were admitted to the intensive care unit, said Dr. Mary D’Alton, the chief obstetrician and gynecologist at the NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan.
Details about the cases at Columbia were presented in a paper published online on Thursday in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology MFM.
There is no evidence the infants have contracted the virus.
Dr. Vincenzo Berghella, editor in chief of the journal, said he was strongly in favor of a no-visitor policy for maternity patients where support is offered via video.
“I understand well both sides — I remember every minute of assisting emotionally during the birth of our two sons,” he said in an email on Saturday. “But saving lives now is more important.”
Flannery Amdahl, 36, a New Yorker who is in her second trimester of pregnancy, has been following the controversy closely.
“It has been so difficult to come to terms with. I have definitely cried over this policy,” she said.
But she said she did not fully support the state’s decision to compel hospitals to allow support people in labor and delivery rooms.
“I am torn because on the one hand, it is really scary to think about the possibility of giving birth alone, and not having an advocate in the delivery room,” she said. “However, I don’t think the hospitals made this decision lightly, at all. They recognize that medical personnel are risking their own lives to just be there.”
Jesse McKinley contributed reporting from Albany.