The journey to motherhood is nerve-racking on its own. And the coronavirus pandemic is adding even more stress for pregnant women. As uncertainty around how the coronavirus affects pregnant women and infants continues, it’s important new moms understand its known implications and what they can do to prevent infecting themselves and their baby.
The physiologic and immune changes that women undergo during pregnancy lead to an increased risk of viral infections. For example, we know that pregnant women who get influenza are at an increased risk of getting viral pneumonia.
There is a possibility that pregnant women who are “high-risk” due to problems such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes may be at higher risk for COVID-19 related complications. But, as it stands right now, the CDC believes pregnant people appear to have the same risk of COVID-19 as adults who are not pregnant.
It’s especially important that pregnant women with pregnancy-related risk factors (such as diabetes or high blood pressure) continue to get prenatal care. Plan for hospital deliveries, as home births are dangerous for women with known risk factors.
It’s best to limit the number of people who are at your delivery. Whether in a hospital or at home make sure that no one you will be in contact with during labor and delivery has recently been ill and been exposed to COVID-19.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine has a registry tracking the outcomes of pregnant women in the U.S. who have COVID-19 at the time of delivery. As of June 5, 2020, they have tracked the outcomes of 747 women with COVID-19 who have given birth. Only 25 babies have tested positive for COVID-19.
However, an additional 99 of these newborns have developed viral symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, fever, and poor feeding, shortly after birth. So, it’s pretty clear that COVID-19 can pass from mom to baby.
It’s really important that pregnant women who think they might have COVID-19, or have been exposed, contact their obstetrician or midwife for guidance on how to proceed. In addition, any pregnant woman with cough, fever, and shortness of breath should be evaluated in person ASAP.
We have very limited information about breastfeeding and COVID-19. To date, there are no known cases of a mother with coronavirus passing it to her baby through breast milk. We also know that in small studies, that the virus is not in the breast milk of mothers who test positive for coronavirus. But, it’s possible that antibodies might be.
Breastfeeding helps to bolster your baby’s immune system and is one of the best ways that you can help prevent your baby from getting coronavirus. So at this time it’s recommended to continue breastfeeding, even if you have been exposed, but take the precautions that are detailed on the CDC website.
The guidelines include all of the following:
- Wash your hands before touching and feeding your baby.
- Wear a mask while breastfeeding.
- If pumping, make sure to wash your hands before pumping and thoroughly clean pump parts after each pumping session.
- Consider a healthy mom feed your baby breast milk.
To protect yourself during pregnancy:
- Be diligent about practicing good hand hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating and after being out in public.
- Do not come in close proximity with people diagnosed with coronavirus. Limit contact with others who are currently sick (i.e. with a fever and cough). Consider avoiding places and gatherings with large crowds.
To protect your newborn:
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer every time you touch your baby.
- Limit visitors in the first few weeks after giving birth. Make sure that people who have recently been sick and/or possibly exposed to COVID-19 do not visit. Visitors wearing masks will not be enough to protect a newborn from this virus.
- Breastfeed, if possible, to help bolster your baby’s immunity. Even partial breast milk will make a big difference in helping your baby to fight off infection!
- If you are pumping breast milk, make sure to clean and disinfect your pump before and after every use.
- Call your baby’s doctor if you have any concerns about a fever, quick breathing, cough, and/or refusing to eat.
If you expose yourself or your baby to coronavirus, chances are that you and your baby will be okay. Overall, the mortality rate for this virus is very low in infants, children, and women of child-bearing age. It’s uncertain times for all of us and can be especially scary as a new mom. But find comfort in knowing you’re being cautious. Follow the CDC guidelines and recommendations from your medical professionals. And are welcoming support from friends and family, when necessary.