More newborns showing up for emergency care during pandemic, Winnipeg pediatrician says

A Winnipeg pediatrician says she is seeing an increase in newborns requiring emergency care during the pandemic — and she fears that trend will worsen in the coming weeks.

dr. Lynne Warda said this is because many of the problems babies face — from jaundice to dehydration to poor nutrition and weight loss — are things that would normally have been noticed on a face-to-face visit in the first two weeks of life.

But because there are fewer in-person visits, those common conditions often go undetected until they need to be hospitalized, she said.

“At the moment we are mainly concerned about the increasing cases and are also moving towards the holidays where we know that many offices are closing [or switching to] vacation hours,” Warda told Marcy Markusa, CBC Manitoba’s Information Radio host.

“It’s going to be even harder to get face-to-face visits for these newborns.”

Warda, who works in the Health Sciences Center’s pediatric emergency department, said it went eerily quiet early in the pandemic in the pediatric emergency department.

In fact, she said the drop in the number of babies coming to care in the first two weeks of life was about 30 percent.

dr. Lynne Warda, seen in this file photo, works in the pediatric emergency department at the Health Sciences Center in Winnipeg. She says she is seeing an increase in newborns requiring emergency care during the pandemic. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

“Part of the reason was that we thought the families were probably just scared to get in because they didn’t want to get sick with COVID,” she said.

But then staff in the infant ward started showing up much later than usual with signs of jaundice, weight loss and dehydration.

While those conditions are all fairly common in newborns, they weren’t noticed early enough for typical treatments, such as home phototherapy for jaundice, Warda said.

“And then the baby has to be hospitalized, which is obviously not what you want with your newborn,” she said.

‘Still faced with these problems’

Although emergency room visits for that age group are now back to about normal, they are still seeing higher admissions rates for certain conditions in newborns, Warda said.

Jaundice cases are up nearly 40 percent this year, while visits for nutritional problems and dehydration are up more than 20 percent.

“So we are still facing these issues, and we believe it is” [because of] a lack of personalized care and the ability of families to weigh their babies on days 3 to 5 to accommodate that more significant weight loss [cases],” she said.

Warda said she wants to encourage primary care providers such as pediatricians and primary care physicians to ensure newborns are seen in those early days of life, even if it’s a hybrid visit done in part over the phone or virtually.

“They really need to put on weight, especially the babies we think are most at risk for breastfeeding issues, weight loss and dehydration,” she said.

“So, for example, a first-time breastfeeding mother … is someone who definitely needs a personal assessment.”

Warda said she knows it can be overwhelming for new parents to take in all the information bombarding them with in hospitals.

But it’s especially important for parents to watch out for what she calls red flags when bringing their babies home — and to make sure they get in-person visits if they need them.

“You do have to advocate for your visits. It will be quite a challenge to get in over the next few weeks. Keep in touch with your primary care provider and your public health nurse,” she said.

“Get all phone support and hopefully we’ll have further updates in the coming weeks on other options that can fix this.”

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