Are pregnant women at greater risk during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Evidence suggests pregnant women are not at higher risk
  • Doctors visits and check-ups will be more challenging
  • There is no evidence to suggest that breast milk can transmit the virus

As COVID-19 continues to ravage the world, pregnant women, in particular, are concerned over the potential risk the virus may pose.

Fear of enhanced complications due to the virus, shuttered businesses, and hospitals and doctor’s offices riddled with COVID-19 are just a few of the concerns weighing on the minds of expectant families. Little research has been done on the novel virus thus far, which means that little is known about the risk it presents specifically to pregnant women.

Evidence suggests that pregnant women are not at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. They are, however, considered an at-risk population. Pregnant women are always at higher risk from infection, so COVID-19 presents additional risks that must be considered.

The majority of risks caused by COVID-19 revolve around access. There are currently no recommendations specific to pregnant women when it comes to COVID-19, but a few things have been noted among this population. Based on limited data, the risk of adverse infant outcomes may be enhanced by a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Pre-term birth is among these outcomes.

Prenatal checkups will likely be more difficult for the time being. With social distancing in effect, many pregnant women will have to choose between self-isolation and their next check-up. Any at-home checks that can be done, such as monitoring blood pressure and diabetes, should be done in isolation.

Labor and delivery will also likely see some changes for now. Many hospitals are limiting the number of visitors allowed in the hospital—and the birthing room. While most hospitals continue to allow at least one person—usually the second parent—into the delivery room, some are not allowing any visitors at all.

There is currently no data to support the idea that mothers with COVID-19 can pass the virus onto their fetuses. The CDC reported that no infants born to mothers with COVID-19 have tested positive themselves, but there have been scattered reports of newborns dying from the coronavirus. No studies have yet been done regarding the transmission of COVID-19 through breast milk. Other respiratory infections, like SARS-CoV, have been studied, however, and data shows that the virus is not detectable in breast milk.

Some hospitals, though, have been separating babies from their mothers if the mothers have tested positive.

The CDC recommends that infected mothers continue breastfeeding—that milk protects your baby from a number of illnesses—while continuing to take precautions to avoid any further spread. This includes washing your hands before touching your infant and, if possible, wearing a face mask while breastfeeding.

Pregnant women can take the same precautions as the rest of the population to reduce the risk of exposure. Wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and do your best to self-isolate.

Sources: NPR, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, CDC, Healthline, Fox 11, People

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