It’s May and we’re past a full year of living through COVID. Take a breath. It’s been a long and challenging year. But we’ve made it this far and I know we can make it through 2021 together, too.
Masks, PPE, lockdowns, and all-day hand sanitizer are no longer just for those who work in health care. With multiple life-saving vaccines in distribution, we finally have the end in sight for us adults, but we’re not quite at the finish line for all of us.
Our precious little ones aren’t yet protected, and they need our help to continue to grow and develop. And that starts with keeping them safe and healthy from day one.
As a new parent with a baby at home (or soon-to-be parent), you are probably wondering how likely it is for your baby to get COVID and what it's like to be in the NICU during a pandemic. While we can't answer everything, or predict the future, we’ve asked Angela Fritz, PT, DPT, PCS to share with us her experience over the past year while working as an infant physical therapist at a children’s hospital in the Pacific Northwest.
Let’s get started
Lizzy: Angela, thanks for sharing your experience with our new parents. Let’s start with the first question that's on everyone's minds. Medically speaking, can a baby get COVID-19?
Angela: While it’s true that COVID primarily impacts adults and in general children are at lower risk of getting COVID and have less severe symptoms, I’m here to tell you the unfortunate news that yes, babies can, and have gotten, COVID-19.
Lizzy: Many parents know how hard it is to handle the first cold or sniffles that baby gets, but what is it like if your baby gets COVID-19 and ends up in the hospital?
Angela: In the hospital, if babies or their families have a suspected or known exposure to COVID, they go into specialized isolation. In this case, all providers wear CAPRs (Controlled Air-Purifying Respirators) and receive only the most medically necessary care. The hospitals have been diligent in protecting and treating all babies and families safely, so this has come with necessary changes to protect everyone.
In order to necessarily limit exposures, services are typically restricted as well. In general, it means no therapy, no extra nursing cuddles when the family is not able to be bedside, no doctors popping in and out on a whim. Each examination and interaction has to be very safe, intentional, and calculated to ensure everyone stays safe and protected.
The stories I could tell you about families being separated, babies being lonely, and essential but not “medically necessary” services being limited would break your heart and bring tears to your eyes. Trust me, COVID at the hospital has given me all the feels. You want to avoid it if at all possible.
Lizzy: That’s heartbreaking to hear that families have had to go through this with their babies. So what can new parents do to keep their little ones safe?
Angela: It’s important to be diligent to protect your baby and family. Make sure to monitor your baby for symptoms, limit travel and visitors (I know it’s hard when everyone is itching to meet your little one), follow local safety guidelines, and continue to get routine medical care for you and your baby.
Lizzy: What about pediatrician’s appointments?
Angela: Great question. You should still go to ALL of your regularly scheduled pediatrician visits and get your baby’s normal immunizations and care. Please don’t skip those appointments.
Instead, skip having your neighbors and friends over to hold the baby and socialize. If anyone around you has had recent COVID exposure, or if they have any reason to suspect they may have COVID, make sure they don’t come near your little one. And it’s OK to ask visitors before they visit about their recent history or behavior, too!
Lizzy: Thanks for sharing that advice. We're so thankful for your service as a frontline worker throughout this pandemic. It's so critical to have your support to help our children recover and grow strong. During the pandemic, how has COVID changed life at the children’s hospital?
Angela: The children’s hospital that I work at is typically a happening place! On any given day, we had visits from local celebrities, Theo the therapy dog, and “aunties and uncles” who were assigned to snuggle the same baby several times a week.
Music therapists roamed the halls and visited babies’ rooms. Artists, clowns, and friendly performers kept the spirits of patients and families high during a challenging hospitalization. These important, life-improving services have been necessarily paused due to the pandemic, and the families and babies are feeling the effects deeply.
Lizzy: I can’t wait till we can get past this pandemic and these services can be re-instated. It sounds like such a joyful place for children in treatment and recovery, and I know those babies need your PT love and support so much.
Angela: Me too. But one of the most encouraging things I’ve observed about these babies during the time of COVID is their resilience. Despite the masks, they can feel our smiles. Through the gloves, they can sense our loving touch. Even when not feeling well, they just want to play, grow, and snuggle.
I predict that that these babies will be excellent at picking up body language and tone of voice fluctuations since they have to rely on those rather than facial expressions with all of the PPE!
Lizzy: Great thought! Angela, thanks for sharing your experience with us and answering some important questions about COVID-19 and babies. We’re grateful for your essential work and dedication to all of the tiny little ones.
To help end the COVID-19 pandemic, we can all do our part to wear a mask inside, limit travel and social gatherings, stay 6 feet apart, and monitor COVID symptoms closely. For more information on where to get a vaccine, visit the CDC's Find a Vaccine Website.
More Learning and Resources
While we are still learning a lot about COVID and the implications for babies, kids, and parents, here is some of what we know so far. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it’s a place to start and is compiled from information from the CDC and the Washington State Department of Health:
- While children have been less affected by COVID-19, they can still become infected by the virus. Children with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of severe illness as a result of the virus.
- Reported signs among newborns with COVID-19 include fever, lethargy (being overly tired or inactive), runny nose, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, poor feeding, and increased work of breathing or shallow breathing.
- If you think your baby or child has been exposed to or may have COVID, contact your doctor immediately and follow the CDC guidelines for steps to take to protect and care for your baby or child.
- The vaccine is currently not approved for any person under the age of 12 years. In Washington, for example, youths over the age of 12 with qualifying health conditions may be eligible for the vaccine in upcoming stages.
- If you live in Washington, visit the Washington State Department of Health website to find out more and how to schedule your vaccine. If you live in another state you can visit your state’s department of health site for more information.
- COVID-19 vaccines are free of charge for everyone, everywhere in the US. Find yours now.
- Newborn checkups and well-child visits are important to continue despite the pandemic.
- Wear your mask indoors, and if your child is over the age of 2 years they should join you in wearing a mask too. Babies and children under the age of 2 years should not wear a mask, as this presents health and safety risks.
Share Your Story
Has your family handled COVID with a newborn or baby? How have you navigated this for your family? Help out another new parent by sharing your story in the comments below.
Angela Fritz is an infant physical therapist (PT) and board-certified pediatric clinical specialist (PCS) and the creator of bebePT. She works full time as a PT in the hospital setting supporting families and helping infants thrive with their own unique needs and strengths. Visit her blog, website, and follow her on Instagram.