Coronavirus and COVID-19: Are pregnant women at higher risk?

If you’re pregnant, you likely have a lot of questions and concerns about how the coronavirus outbreak could affect you and your baby. Because this particular type of coronavirus, SARS-Cov-2 which causes COVID-19, is new to the U.S. population – and the world – a lot of questions remain unanswered. Here’s what we know right now.

When you’re pregnant your immune system can be weakened

According to the March of Dimes, your immune system isn’t as quick to respond to illness when you’re pregnant. Anyone who has a weakened immune system is more susceptible to getting sick with viruses or respiratory illnesses like the flu. At this time, we still don’t know with certainty if the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy. While early evidence suggests the risk is low, there are still important facts and steps to consider.

What you should know about COVID-19 and pregnancy

Pregnancy loss has occurred with other coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV. At this time, we don’t know if the virus that causes COVID-19 can cause miscarriage.

Women who are pregnant need to guard against getting high fevers and certain types of infections during early pregnancy to help avoid birth defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Patrick Ramsey, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at University Health, notes “the good news is that there does not appear to be a significant risk for birth defects related to infections with other types of coronaviruses, so we anticipate the risk for birth defects with COVID-19 will not be increased.”

Early evidence indicates a small number of problems, such as early delivery, involving mothers who have COVID-19. It’s not clear at this time if those cases are related to infection with COVID-19 or due to something else.

In general, pregnant women may be at a higher risk for severe illness when they get a respiratory illness. Early evidence suggests that pregnant women with COVID-19 are not at higher risk for severe illness than the general population.

Encouraging news for pregnant women

Limited data from the CDC indicates that babies born to mothers who have COVID-19 are not testing positive for the virus. So far, the virus is not being detected in amniotic fluid or breastmilk. Dr. Sarah Page-Ramsey, an obstetrician at University Health, advises that “based on the information we have so far, COVID-19 infection during pregnancy is not likely to change the way labor and delivery are managed later in the pregnancy. For most women, a normal birth will be the end result.”

If you’re pregnant, make every effort to protect yourself

Being pregnant means you need to be consistent and serious about taking all the measures possible to avoid infection. They’re the same steps we advise to the general public:

  • Cover you cough – with your elbow or a tissue
  • Avoid people who are sick
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds multiple times a day using soap and water or using an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
  • Practice social distancing and stay at home unless you absolutely need to go out

“Protecting yourself from infection also means making sure your immune system is at its best, even during pregnancy. Simple changes include a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, plenty of sleep, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking,” says Dr. Page-Ramsey. “It is important to discuss your individual diet and exercise habits with your health care provider.”

When it’s delivery time, call your hospital ahead of time

If you’re in labor and you’ve been diagnosed with or you think you may have COVID-19, the March of Dimes recommends calling the hospital before you arrive. This will give the medical team and support staff time to set up appropriate infection control protocols to help protect your baby and others from getting the virus. “Our outstanding team of doctors, nurses, and ancillary staff at our level IV maternal and neonatal center is prepared with state-of-the-art facilities and infection prevention protocols to protect you and your baby before, during and after your delivery” says Dr. Ramsey.

If you have COVID-19, what happens after baby is born?

Based on CDC recommendations, healthcare facilities will create a place to care for baby in a separate room until the risk of spreading infection is over. Your doctor, infection control specialists and public health experts will work with you to figure out what is in the best interest for you and baby, considering your personal circumstances.

According to the CDC and the WHO, women who have COVID-19 can breastfeed, but both organizations strongly recommend that new moms follow these protective actions:

  • Practice respiratory hygiene during feeding; wear a mask when possible
  • Wash hands before and after touching your baby
  • Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces you’ve touched

The CDC acknowledges they don’t have enough data right now to conclusively say whether the virus spreads from mother to baby by breastfeeding. If you have COVID-19, you should talk to your doctor about breastfeeding. It’s a personal decision. To give you more confidence, consult with multiple experts before making your final decision.

Check out the CDC website for official updates on the most effective healthcare protocols to help protect you and your family members. The CDC will continue to collect meaningful data on the relationship between pregnant women and coronavirus as it unfolds.

Additional resources about pregnancy and coronavirus:

The March of Dimes is providing updated information and recommendations to help pregnant women create a plan of action for themselves and their expected newborn.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to provide additional guidanceto pregnant women as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The WHO provides recommendations on a number of topics relating to COVID-19 and how it may impact pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists provides the latest guidance on how to best approach medical care for pregnant patients in light of COVID-19.

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