As a result of their work, healthcare workers are at an increased risk of getting respiratory disorders like COVID-19. However, there are a variety of medical procedures, some of which carry greater danger than others. When that occurs, having easy access to PPE is more crucial than before.

However, not all seemingly risky treatments, including vaginal birth, are classified as hazardous. The WHO and the CDC do not consider vaginal birth to be a high-risk or aerosol-generating (increasing the danger of infection to healthcare personnel) practice.

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This means that personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks isn’t advised for those working in labor and delivery. There is a greater risk of respiratory illness transmission during labor and delivery, according to a new UCLA study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

These respiratory emissions can travel quicker and farther than a simple cough (such as the COVID-19 virus). Until recommendations for the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) during a vaginal birth were based on anecdotal evidence rather than hard facts.

Results of the Research

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UCLA researchers examined breath emissions by photographing subjects against a background schlieren pattern. This method, which measures or visualizes changes in sharp images, revealed the previously undetectable movement of warm gases and the surrounding cooler air.

From the first to the second (active) stage of labor, researchers observed a gradual increase in the rate and intensity of the patient’s breathing.

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Pushing and breathing with the Valsalva maneuver is a common part of labor and vaginal birth. This results in a rise in the release of respiratory particles, which travel at high speeds across significant distances and remain in the air for a considerable amount of time.

During active labor, complex gas clouds travel at an average speed of 1.8 meters per second, which is 30% quicker than regular breathing and at least 6% faster than coughing.

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The time healthcare workers spend supporting a vaginal delivery, the speed and distance of particles and the spread of respiratory emissions make this a high-risk scenario for respiratory disease transmission.

Experiences in the Labor Room

These results are significant since they come from a study designed specifically to examine respiratory emissions during childbirth. In this process, [it demonstrates] that the labor and delivery crew is in close contact with respiratory emissions for an extended length of time.

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What OBGYNs have learned from years of experience caring for patients in childbirth is highlighted, and the study provides evidence for this knowledge. Practitioners should take precautions because of the significant touch and exposure that occurs during childbirth.

It is unacceptable to not provide all necessary PPE to labor and delivery workers. If protective equipment is in short supply, staff members must be shown how to recycle previously used items safely.

The Implications of This Finding For You

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The results can be used to justify labeling vaginal birth as an aerosol-generating process and equipping all labor and delivery professionals with complete PPE. The danger of contracting COVID-19 remains high. Thus it’s prudent to take preventative measures.

If you’re pregnant and worried about COVID-19, a doctor can help. If it isn’t already policy at your hospital, you may want to wear a mask throughout labor and delivery, and you can always ask the medical staff helping you to do the same.

You can ask the hospital personnel any questions you have about the delivery procedure and the measures they take to prevent the spread of COVID-19.