Hospitals Put Counter-Pressure on Doulas During Flu Season

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If you are pregnant and planning a hospital birth, check your hospital’s visitor policy to see if you’ll need to choose between your doula and your spouse, significant other or loved one during labor, or if your older children will be banned from visiting you in the hospital.

The hospital chain, Inova, publicized their new flu-season visitor policy on the Inova Health System web site. For inpatients, anyone with influenza-like symptoms are not allowed to visit, nor are visitors (including siblings) under the age of 18. Only two people may visit an inpatient at a time. Visitors may be required to wear masks or other protective clothing and if they refuse, may be asked to leave.

The two-visitor-per-patient rule does not apply to laboring women, who must choose between a spouse or significant other and their “support person.”

In all Women’s Units (including Labor and Delivery, Family-Centered Care and Post-Partum) the following restrictions apply:

Visitors to women in OB units are limited to one person, who must be either a spouse or significant other (boyfriend/girlfriend). If the patient has neither a spouse nor a significant other, a designated “support person” may visit instead. The visiting hours spelled out above do not apply to this spouse/significant other/support person. In addition, all maternity and pre-surgical tours have been cancelled during flu season.

While this is not technically a ban on doulas, it is forcing women to choose between a trained labor support person and their loved one. Read the research on the effectiveness of doulas.

Local maternity care activists have contacted Inova and initially received confirmation that doulas would be considered part of the medical team. However, Inova Health System rescinded the doula-inclusive statement and reconfirmed that laboring women would be allowed only one person to accompany them from admittance to discharge. This person must be the same person for the duration of the stay. One activist said (via e-mail) that there may continue to be isolated cases in which doulas are allowed along with the woman’s partner, but the one-visitor maternity policy will remain in effect until the end of flu season in March. 


Older siblings and other young visitors also banned from visiting maternity patients

The organization EmPoWeReD Birth posted a note on its Facebook fan page last week to voice concern over the ban on young visitors in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania area hospitals along with many hospitals across the United States. They stated their concerns about the ban as follows:

  • We believe that early visits between older siblings and the new baby are an essential part of family bonding. While web-casting, which is being considered at one hospital, is a nice attempt at compromise, we do not believe it is in the best interest of healthy families.
  • We are concerned that this ban could prove to have a greater impact on lower income families, or families who are new to the area, who may not be able to find accessible childcare.
  • We are concerned that this ban is being implemented without any evidence that children are more likely to be carriers of the virus, or to be more likely to “share” the virus. Even the CDC recommendations for hospitals do not include any mention of prohibiting children from visiting the hospital. As such, the bans represent blatant “age-ism.” Yes, children sneeze without covering their mouths. Yes, children fail to wash their hands enough. So do adults.
  • We are concerned that this ban could prove to be trend-setting. That is, we are concerned that it might get implemented again each year, resulting in children being unable to visit both new siblings, or ill relatives, for half the year. This would be a step back for the “family centered” changes that have been hard won in recent decades.
  • We feel that this ban is an over-reaction to the situation at hand. President Obama, in declaring the swine flu issue an emergency, reported that 1000 people have died this year from the swine flu—that is, 1000 people in 9 months.* To put this in some perspective, 1000 people die every 9 DAYS in America in vehicle crashes. Yet we don’t see the corollary marketing campaign going on to protect child passenger safety—“if you bring a child into the hospital, you will be required to prove that the child is using the appropriate child safety seat correctly before being able to leave.”


Is your hospital limiting visitors and forcing laboring women to choose between their significant other (or family member/friend) and their doula? Please comment and link to the hospital’s visitor policy page.


Pass this on to pregnant women due between now and March so they can prepare.



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