What pregnant women need to know about the coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic is increasing stress and uncertainty for many expectant mothers around the world.
One major reason for this is because health experts “are operating in a data-free zone” when it comes to pregnant women and COVID-19. Research is still pending on whether these women are more susceptible to catching the illness, and if contracting the virus could affect fetal health.
This leaves pregnant essential workers with little information as they grapple with the difficult choice of earning income or possibly putting their health and babies at risk.
Compounding this fear of the unknown are strict social distancing guidelines. This has caused increased mental distress for women who are deprived of the support of loved ones and those who could benefit from helpful birthing and breastfeeding classes.
The pandemic has also complicated family planning issues. Many women wonder whether it’s safe to have a baby during this time. Not everyone will have a choice – the United Nations warns that lockdowns could result in millions of unintended pregnancies, as women in many countries lose access to contraceptives.
From a medical perspective, pre- and post-natal treatments are rapidly evolving to ensure the safest care. In some nations, regular checkups have moved online to prevent unnecessary hospital visits. In these instances, expectant mothers are taught to monitor foetal heartbeats and their own blood pressure a change that may stick around for years to come.
What does the coronavirus mean for your pregnancy?
Scientists are still trying to learn more about how this virus impacts pregnancy. Here’s what we know right now:
- Pregnant women are immunocompromised and therefore more susceptible to complications of respiratory infections like the coronavirus, so experts recommend doing your best to follow certain precautions, like practicing good hand hygiene — an important step at any time.
- A small study of nine pregnant women in Wuhan, China, with confirmed COVID-19 found no evidence of the virus in their breast milk, cord blood, or amniotic fluid.
- A small retrospective study published in The Lancet reviewed obstetric and neonatal outcomes of seven pregnant women at a hospital in Wuhan who had contracted COVID-19 in their third trimesters. The outcomes for all seven moms were good; none were admitted into intensive care and all were discharged from the hospital.
- In the U.K., the country’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Midwives and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health issued guidance earlier this month based off of clinical observations and a report from the WHO. The report analyzed data from 147 pregnant women and concluded that moms-to-be do not seem to have a greater risk of complications than the general public. However, recommendations in the U.K. have since evolved, and pregnant women in the U.K. are now considered part of the at-risk category for COVID-19 and advised to partake in 12 weeks of self-isolation.
- A small study of 43 pregnant women in New York with confirmed COVID-19 published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology in April found that unlike SARS and H1N1, pregnant women do not seem to experience more severe illness from the coronavirus compared to the general population.
- A study published as a letter in The New England Journal of Medicine looked at testing data from pregnant women who delivered between March 22 and April 4 at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital and Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. Although the study was small, focusing on just 215 moms-to-be, 88 percent of the women who tested positive for COVID-19 did not show any symptoms.
Bottom line? Because there are still so many unknowns about how the coronavirus affects pregnant women, it’s essential to stay home as much as possible right now, says Rajeev Fernando, M.D., an infectious disease expert in Southampton, New York and member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board.
How can pregnant women prepare for the coronavirus?
If you’re pregnant, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to prepare for a possible outbreak in your area.
Even if there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in your area, Dr. Adalja says that it’s important to assume that the coronavirus is still circulating in your town. Tests are scarce, it can take days to get test results back and research has suggested that people can spread the virus before they even have symptoms. Basically, people in your town could be infected and not know it yet.
Again, Dr. Fernando recommends that you do your best to stay home as much as possible and limit your interactions with others outside of the immediate family. It doesn’t hurt to stock up on a few essential items, such as medications, canned goods, and frozen foods. If you go out in public, the CDC now recommends that everyone wear cloth face coverings (such as a bandana or scarf) to prevent the spread of infection.