New York blocks hospital policy that would have forced pregnant women to give birth alone

Several days ago, two of the largest hospital systems in New York City issued strict new visitor policies that would have required pregnant women to deliver their babies without a partner or family member present — a move intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

But after an outcry from expectant families and childbirth professionals, state officials on Saturday said that women in the state will not have to deliver alone.

Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said he would be issuing an executive order ensuring that all patients would be allowed to have one support person — a spouse, partner, family member or doula — present throughout labor, delivery and the postpartum period.

“In no hospital in New York will a woman be forced to be alone when she gives birth. Not now, not ever,” Cuomo said on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

The order will enforce guidelines put forward by the New York State Department of Health.

Both the private hospital systems that had instituted the no-visitor policies said they intended to comply with the order.

“We will comply with the Executive Order regarding visitors for obstetric patients, effective immediately,” New York-Presbyterian said in a statement Saturday. “Our highest priority continues to be the safety and well-being of our patients, their families, and our staff.” Last Sunday, New York-Presbyterian became the first hospital system to bar partners and other support people from a labor and delivery unit.

Mount Sinai, which had issued its policy Monday, said in a statement Saturday: “In partnership with New York State, effective today, we will permit one healthy partner to join the expectant mother for labor and delivery. 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.”

Many women who would have been affected by the policies expressed fear at the prospect of giving birth alone. “It’s just the worst nightmare to think about being in a hospital in labor for hours alone,” said Adrienne Stortz, who is due next month.

Evidence shows that having continuous support throughout labor is beneficial to women’s health and lowers the risk of complications.

As of Saturday there were more than 53,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York state.