COVID-19 is a concern for everybody, but pregnant women and others anticipating the birth of a baby may worry about how the novel coronavirus could affect their health and the health of the baby.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a new disease that results from infection with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
As it has only appeared recently, experts have not yet collected enough data to know exactly how the virus affects the health of pregnant women, fetuses, or newborns.
However, several official organizations have released guidance on how pregnant women and those with newborns should proceed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This article looks at what we currently know about the effects of COVID-19 on pregnancy, giving birth, and the period after delivery.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), there is no evidence that COVID-19 affects pregnant women differently than other adults.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) similarly report that there is no reason to believe that pregnant women are more likely than other people to get COVID-19, to have a severe form of the illness, or to die from it.
However, during pregnancy, women are more at risk of getting sick from other respiratory viruses, including influenza. These infections can have adverse effects on the woman and baby.
Due to this, the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) both recommend that women should take care to reduce their risk of getting sick during pregnancy.
The WHO currently classify pregnant women as a vulnerable population, along with older adults and pediatric patients.
If women suspect that they have COVID-19 while pregnant, they should talk to their doctor as soon as possible. According to the ACOG, pregnant women with suspected COVID-19 should receive priority testing.
A recent study from the United Kingdom, which has not undergone peer review but is currently available online in preprint form, found that more than half of the pregnant women hospitalized with COVID-19 between March 1 and April 14 were Black or from ethnic minority groups. Experts are discussing this in the context of widespread discrimination and systemic racism in healthcare. Read more here.
These are unsettling times, and it is natural to feel stressed. Taking time for self-care and activities that relieve stress can have important benefits for both the woman and the baby.
It is possible for newborns to have COVID-19, and some babies have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus shortly after birth. Doctors do not know if they caught the virus before, during, or after delivery.
To date, research has not found the virus in amniotic fluid when the woman has COVID-19. The babies may, therefore, have contracted the virus after birth, but experts are still unsure.
In most cases, newborns with COVID-19 have had mild or no symptoms and made a full recovery. There are also a few reported cases of severe illness in newborns, though.
In a few cases, early birth and other pregnancy or birth problems have occurred in women with COVID-19. However, experts do not know if these problems were related to the virus.
The CDC say that the safest place to give birth is under the supervision of trained healthcare staff, even during the pandemic.
Women who suspect that they have COVID-19 soon before their due date can contact their hospital in advance to find out about their protocol. Many hospitals have separate entrances for people who have COVID-19.
Some hospitals in the United States are limiting the number of visitors, with the aim of protecting patients and staff from the virus. These policies may affect who can attend ultrasound scans, enter the delivery room, or be present during labor.
However, some hospitals have relaxed their restrictions and no longer have these rules in place. People can call the hospital in advance to find out their current guidelines.
In some cases, if a pregnant woman has confirmed or suspected COVID-19, a doctor might recommend temporarily separating the woman and newborn after delivery to reduce the risk of the newborn catching the virus.
The CDC say that the woman and her healthcare team should decide together whether to take this precaution based on the level of risk and the woman’s wishes.
Those who choose not to separate from the baby should take extra precautions. These include regular hand washing and wearing a cloth face covering when within 2 meters of the newborn.
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 that the facility has in place for other people with COVID-19. These may involve staying in private rooms, away from other people.
One of the biggest questions that new mothers with COVID-19 may have is whether they should breastfeed their babies.
Breast milk has many benefits for newborns — not only is it 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 those with COVID-19 might worry about passing the virus on to the infant.
However, the CDC state that evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is not present in the breast milk of women with COVID-19.
Despite this, women with COVID-19 should take precautions to ensure that they do not transmit the virus to the 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 should 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 a new disease, and there are limited data about how it affects pregnant women, fetuses, newborns, and the future health status of these individuals.
The limited data available suggest that SARS-CoV-2 does not pass to babies in the womb, in amniotic fluid, or in breast milk.
Anyone concerned about how COVID-19 might affect their health or their child’s heath can talk to their healthcare provider for up-to-date information and reassurance.