Special Delivery: New Parenthood in a New Year

As we ring in the new year, there’s buzz around the country for people wondering if this season will usher in a baby boom for the thousands of couples who were closely quarantined starting last March. Sharon Shattenberg, RN, BSN, is the Director of the Maternal and Child Centers for Penn Highlands Healthcare and says some professionals in the field who anticipated a surge in early 2021 stork visits have been a little surprised it doesn’t appear this will be the case. “Some hospitals were worried they wouldn’t have enough nurses,” Shattenberg says, while the national and local data actually suggest a different trend, with some Americans planning for the future a little more cautiously in 2020: “It looks like there could be a reduction by about 10 percent.”

Still, close to home there’s been plenty of 2020 activity on the maternity units at Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Elk, with more than 1,100 babies born at PH DuBois, and about 180 at PH Elk—while Shattenberg adds that her teams have made the most of caring for patients throughout an unpredictable past year. “We’ve embraced it,” Shattenberg says, as during the pandemic, visitation to new moms has been limited to one support person—often the baby’s other parent—for the duration of the patients’ stay. Even though naturally, some young women have found it tough not to have their own moms or extended family at the bedside to lend moral support or an extra hand immediately after birth, the nursing team has taken joy in filling those roles. “Our nurses have helped fulfill that family role to keep our patients safe during the pandemic,” she says, adding that her team has heard from patients who reflected on the level of care they received by commenting, “We loved it.”

Shattenberg also explains that the times we’re in have a way of encouraging new moms to lean into the services the Penn Highlands Maternal and Child Center team provides. “Patients in our community have options. We can provide care for our high-risk moms with a team of providers, including maternal-fetal medicine, obstetricians, midwives, and our neonatologist, Dr. Hassan,” while on the other hand, she says, “Low-risk moms can choose to have a midwife with an obstetrician on call and always available.” She notes that in general, “A lot of women really like that at Penn Highlands, they can have a midwife, who can spend direct patient care time at the beside.” With the support of a midwife, patients can take advantage of a variety of services and techniques to help during childbirth: massage, hydrotherapy (“We do have a jacuzzi tub,” Shattenberg says), aromatherapy, and birthing balls to help with positioning, which “can make labor go much quicker,” she explains.

The PH Maternity and Child Center team also continues to be a resource after a mother-baby “couplet” has been discharged. Shattenberg highlights the Keystone 10 Steps, a state initiative that offers mothers support from a nurse who can consult with a credentialed lactation consultant from Penn Highlands Life’s Journey. “This team works with moms as inpatients and then follows up with them as outpatients,” Shattenberg says, which gives parents assurance and tips to navigate the practice of breastfeeding, which can take time and nurturing.

And no matter what 2021 might bring, Shattenberg assures us the Penn Highlands Maternal and Child Center team will be ready. Each morning, the maternity team holds a “huddle”—a meeting between the staff who are finishing their shift and those who are just coming on. “That includes staff from anesthesia and our neonatal intensive care unit so that as a team, we can plan and anticipate for the upcoming shift.” They also “do a lot of simulation with our physicians and nurses,” she says. “We plan for emergencies so that we’re prepared just in case. That’s a key piece—in fact, I remember a couple who had been through an eventful situation. Afterward, the dad said to me: ‘It’s almost like you guys rehearsed that.’ And I told him, ‘Well, we do.’ Just like sports, our team practices.”

To learn more about the maternity team at your side in 2021 and beyond, visit www.phhealthcare.org/baby.