Pregnant during the pandemic? Knowns and unknowns

April 02, 2020 | by Kimberley Darey, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

Coronavirus is turning lives upside down. Information about the virus is changing by the hour. For pregnant women, this can be extremely unsettling.

These are some of the questions you may have: How worried should I be about getting the virus? Will I have to give birth alone? Will I be exposed to patients with COVID-19 at the hospital where I deliver?

Unfortunately, little is known at this time about how this new virus affects pregnant women. For now, experts are basing recommendations largely on infection control considerations for other respiratory viruses, such as the flu, SARS and MERS.

While we do not currently know if pregnant women have a greater chance of contracting COVID-19, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) asserts that pregnant women should be considered an at-risk population for COVID-19.

We do know that pregnancy alters a woman’s immune system, which may put her at higher risk of developing respiratory infections like the flu. Also, pregnant women who develop a respiratory infection face a greater risk for complications. The risk increases for women with underlying health conditions like diabetes or lupus.

What if you are pregnant and have COVID-19?

We don’t yet know if the virus causes problems during pregnancy, but it may increase the risk of complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant people are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and death, compared to non-pregnant people. Additionally, pregnant people with COVID-19 might be at increased risk for other adverse outcomes, such as preterm birth (delivering the baby earlier than 37 weeks).

While we don’t know for sure if a pregnant woman can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy or delivery, COVID-19 is uncommon in newborns born to mothers who had COVID-19 during pregnancy.

Some newborns have tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after birth, but it isn't known if these newborns got the virus before, during or after birth. Most newborns who tested positive for COVID-19 had mild or no symptoms and recovered, but there are a few reports of newborns with severe COVID-19 illness.

It is still unknown whether mothers with COVID-19 can transmit the virus via breast milk, but current evidence suggests that breast milk is not likely to spread the virus to babies.

In response to the pandemic, some pregnant women are considering giving birth at home or are asking for early induced labor to avoid being in the hospital during a possible surge of COVID-19 cases. Most experts advise against both.

A planned hospital birth is still considered the safest option to deliver your baby. Most hospitals are taking precautions to ensure that pregnant women aren’t exposed to ill patients and visitors, including modifications in caring for pregnant women suspected of having COVID-19. Read the latest information from the CDC about pregnancy and COVID-19.

How can pregnant women protect themselves and their babies from COVID-19? Take these precautions:

  • Clean your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose.
  • Cough or sneeze into your bent elbow. 
  • Eat a healthy diet, stay hydrated and get enough sleep.
  • Avoid contact with people outside of your household (stay at least six feet away from others). Don’t have visitors to your home. Avoid social gatherings, such as baby showers.
  • Avoid anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid all travel at this time.
  • Ask your doctor about having prenatal checkups by phone or video conference.
  • Make sure you’re up to date on your vaccines, including the flu shot and Tdap.
  • Identify one support person who can be with you during labor and delivery. (If you also have a doula, plan for a video call.)
  • Plan for a back-up caregiver in case you or your partner contract the virus.

Read the CDC’s recommendations for preventing COVID-19.

If you’re pregnant and you begin to have symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, dry cough, shortness of breath), the first step is to call your OB-GYN and/or primary care physician.  

To protect patients and the community, Edward-Elmhurst Health has updated our visitor policy. As of early April, our pediatric patient population may have two parents and patients in the Mother Baby Unit and Labor and Delivery Unit may have one partner or support person. All visitors will be screened for a temperature greater than 100 degrees before entering our sites. These policies may be adjusted for patients with known or suspected COVID-19. See the latest updates to our visitor policy.

Get more information about coronavirus from Healthy Driven Chicago.

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