No woman should be forced to deliver a baby alone, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji says.

Mukherji, D-Hudson, said that's a main driver behind legislation he's set to introduce Thursday that would state, in law, that hospitals are required to permit expecting mothers one support person in the delivery room during childbirth.

Hospitals throughout the Garden State were advised by the state health department in late March, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that they must allow for a support person throughout labor, delivery and the postpartum period. Mukherji, a new father, wants to make the rule permanent and not just a requirement during the current public health emergency.

"I heard from so many expecting couples who just don't realize that this guidance was issued, and they're afraid," Mukherji told New Jersey 101.5.

A woman in Gloucester Township, with the help of her husband, recently gave birth in a bathtub at home because she feared she'd be separated from her husband during childbirth at Virtua Voorhees Hospital. The hospital later clarified that it does allow a visitor for labor and delivery, but may not allow a visitor during a laboring woman's initial assessment.

"To me, it should be the right of every expecting mother to have a support person," Mukherji. "It could be the father, it could be a doula, it could be your mom if you're unmarried or your partner's not in the picture."

Mukherji's office pointed to research from both the World Health Organization and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supporting the conclusion that continuous support during labor and postpartum provides benefits for moms and their babies.

“Research shows women with social support during childbirth tend to have shorter duration of labor, control their pain better, and have a reduced need for medical intervention," Mukherji said. "In addition to providing physical and emotional comfort during labor and postpartum, support persons also reduce maternal mortality rates and alleviate the burden on hospitals by alerting staff when the patient is unable to do so.”

Responding to a request for comment, the New Jersey Hospital Association said it concurs with the state Health Commissioner's directive ensuring that a support person can accompany a woman in labor and delivery. That echoes a voluntary visitor policy the association developed and shared with members on March 13.

"We've heard from pregnant women expressing their appreciation for that position," said the association's Kerry McKean Kelly.

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