Being pregnant induces a whole new set of worries for moms-to-be, and adding a global pandemic to the mix can be even more overwhelming. The worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) raises many concerns for pregnant women, such as how it could affect the health of mom and baby and how it may change your labor and delivery experience.
How is COVID-19 affecting pregnant women?
The majority of current evidence suggests that expectant mothers are not more susceptible than any other person to getting COVID-19. The virus affects both men and women and people of all ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms include fever or chills, cough, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, body aches, loss of taste and smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. There are no specific symptoms special to pregnant women.
Of the more than 4 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., pregnant women account for 12,969 cases, 3,524 hospitalizations and 35 deaths through July 21, according to the CDC.
While pregnant women aren’t more likely than anyone else to get COVID-19, they might be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant people, according to the CDC.
“New information from the CDC suggests that pregnant women may be at increased risk for certain manifestation of severe illness due to COVID-19, such as intensive care unit admission and ventilation,” says Dr. Oluwatosin Goje, an OB-GYN at the Cleveland Clinic. “But overall risk of these clinical interventions remains low and pregnant patients do not appear to be at increased risk of death compared with non-pregnant patients of the same age.”
Can I give COVID-19 to my baby?
“As far as we understand, this is not vertically transferred — you passing it on to your baby while pregnant does not occur,” says Dr. Nancy J. Cossler, chief of system quality for obstetrics at University Hospitals.
While it doesn’t appear that COVID-19 can be transferred to your baby in the womb, you can give it to your baby after delivery, which is why hospitals are testing every mother who comes into labor and delivery whether they show symptoms or not.
“One of the reasons we test asymptomatic women upon delivery is that moms who are COVID positive, we still want them to breastfeed and do kangaroo care, but they need to learn how to do it safely,” Cossler adds.
A big worry for moms is that they will be automatically separated from their newborn if they test positive for COVID-19, but area hospitals have protocols in place that allow mothers to stay with their babies if they choose to do so.
“We don’t want moms to be afraid that we’re going to take their baby,” Cossler says.
“The pediatricians will talk to the mom who is COVID positive and will outline two possibilities. The mom can choose to have the baby stay in a separate room, but she can also choose to co-locate and keep the baby in her room. We keep the baby 6 feet away from mom, except when she’s breastfeeding, and we teach her how to breastfeed safely.”
Labor and Delivery Expectations
As you prepare for labor and delivery during this time, being flexible is essential. Expectant mothers should work with their care teams to stay up to date on the latest hospital rules and regulations.
“Women have always had a special family bonding time during the delivery and can still have the same experience if it is planned ahead,” Goje says. “They should have discussions with their providers about expectations and should discuss with their families also about expectations.”
A few things mothers should consider is how many support people are allowed to be with you during labor and delivery, what to do if your support person tests positive for COVID-19, visitor guidelines, breastfeeding support, and how to take precautions around family and friends after you’re discharged.
Staying Healthy While Pregnant
Pregnant women should take the same precautions as those who are not pregnant to protect themselves from COVID-19. According to the CDC, the best ways to protect yourself and to help reduce the spread of the virus are to:
- Limit your interactions with other people as much as possible;
- Avoid contact with people who are sick;
- Wash your hands often;
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others;
- Cover coughs and sneezes;
- Clean frequently touched surfaces; and
- Monitor your health daily and call your doctor if you aren’t feeling well.