This article was updated on April 3, 2020 to include information about hospital restrictions regarding giving birth during the pandemic.
The COVID-19 outbreak is upending daily life everywhere. Pregnant women and others anticipating the birth of a new baby have good reason to wonder what kind of effect the novel coronavirus will have on their health of their unborn children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) do not yet know if COVID-19 affects the health of a fetus or a newborn or how it may impact pregnancy and childbirth.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging pregnant women to take all possible precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Any pregnant women who experience symptoms of COVID-19 must inform their healthcare providers immediately.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) do not yet know how COVID-19 will affect pregnant women or their unborn babies.
The ACOG do know, however, that pregnant women are at increased risk of severe illness from other diseases that attack the respiratory system, such as influenza and SARS. This indicates that COVID-19 could potentially carry a similar risk.
This article looks at how COVID-19 might affect pregnancy, giving birth, and the period after delivery.
To date, only a few pregnant women with COVID-19 have given birth. However, the CDC can report that no babies born to women with the disease have tested positive for the virus.
There have been instances of women with COVID-19 delivering prematurely, but scientists cannot say for sure that these early births were due to COVID-19.
In a CDC Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA), researchers reviewed data gathered from 34 pregnant women who had COVID-19. These women had a median age of 30 and had tested positive for COVID-19 in their second or third trimesters. The researchers had no data on women who got the disease earlier in their pregnancy.
Most of these women reported mild to severe symptoms, and caregivers said they were not seeing an increased risk for severe illness and morbidity among them.
Pregnant women with COVID-19 need to follow the same procedures as anyone else with the disease, even while they are on their way to the hospital to deliver.
Many hospitals have separate entrances for people who have COVID-19, so contact the hospital well beforehand to learn their protocol. This is especially important for women already in labor.
Scientists have little data to work with when it comes to determining how COVID-19 affects birth. However, COCA identified that many of the babies born to women who had COVID-19 were born preterm.
However, there is not enough data to determine whether the preterm deliveries occurred due to complications stemming from COVID-19 itself or other causes.
According to the CDC, researchers have not found the virus in the amniotic fluid of women with COVID-19.
Some hospitals in the United States are now practicing a no-visitors policy, with the aim of protecting patients and staff from the virus. This rule is applicable to everyone, including those who do not have COVID-19.
These restrictions mean that only pregnant women can enter the delivery room, and partners are unable to be present during labor.
Some hospitals are also barring partners, family members, and friends from attending ultrasound scans.
Due to the recent appearance of SARS-CoV-2, researchers have not had much time to study its effects on or the outlook for infants born to mothers with COVID-19.
However, healthcare professionals will need to take special action for a baby born to a woman with COVID-19. According to current hospital procedures, they should treat the baby as a person under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19.
The WHO still encourage mothers with COVID-19 to hold and breastfeed their babies because this close connection is essential for newborns. They also encourage mothers to share a room with their babies. However, these women must follow strict safety procedures.
The hospital staff will care for pregnant women with COVID-19 according to the procedures the facility has in place for other people with COVID-19. This may include staying in private rooms, away from other people.
One of the biggest questions new mothers with COVID-19 may have is whether they should breastfeed their babies. Breast milk has many benefits for newborns — it is not only rich in nutrients, but it is also a great source of antibodies and hormones that protect newborns from diseases and help them grow strong.
Experts generally recommend that women breastfeed as much as possible. But women with COVID-19 might worry about passing the virus on to their infants.
However, the CDC state that researchers did not find SARS-CoV-2 in the breast milk of women with COVID-19.
However, women with COVID-19 must take precautions to ensure they do not transmit the virus to their baby when breastfeeding. Women who plan to breastfeed should wear a face mask and disinfect their hands before touching the baby.
If a woman with COVID-19 plans to pump her breast milk, she must disinfect her hands and the pump before and after each use. Where possible, someone who does not have the disease should do the actual feeding.
COVID-19 is such a new disease that there is not yet much data about how it affects pregnant women, their fetuses, their newborns, and the future health status of these infants and their mothers.
The limited data available suggests that pregnant women do not pass SARS-CoV-2 to their babies in the womb, in amniotic fluid, or breast milk.
There is, however, a possibility that COVID-19 might increase the risk of preterm birth, although there is no firm evidence to confirm this.