At the moment, many pregnant women may be frightened about the effect that coronavirus might have on them and their unborn babies. Before Covid-19 (the new coronavirus), there were other types of coronavirus that caused serious lung infections in people. The two most famous ones are MERS and SARS, which both caused miscarriages and severe disease in pregnant women. Therefore, it is natural to be worried about what effect Covid-19 might have on pregnant women and their unborn babies.
DOES COVID-19 CAUSE MORE SEVERE ILLNESS IN PREGNANT WOMEN?
So far, it seems that pregnant women who get Covid-19 become equally as ill as women of the same age who are not pregnant. It is expected that most pregnant women will experience only mild cold or flu-like symptoms. You can read more about the symptoms of Covid-19, and how to care for yourself at home if you think you have it, here: https://rightforeducation.org/2020/03/02/coronavirus/
WHAT EFFECT WILL CORONAVIRUS HAVE ON MY BABY IF I AM DIAGNOSED WITH THE INFECTION?
As this is a very new virus, we are just beginning to learn about it. However, there is no evidence currently to suggest an increased risk of miscarriage (when the baby dies before it is born). It is also unlikely that if you have the virus it would cause problems with the baby’s development. No cases of developmental problems caused by Covid-19 have been reported yet.
Most of the evidence we have so far comes from China. Some babies born to women with symptoms of Covid-19 in China have been born prematurely (early). It is not clear whether Covid-19 caused early labour, or whether doctors recommended that the baby should be born early in order to help them treat the mother.
WILL I PASS THE INFECTION ON TO MY BABY IF I BECOME INFECTED?
We still do not know if a pregnant woman with Covid-19 can pass the virus on to her baby during pregnancy or delivery. The research that has been done involves small numbers of pregnant women. These numbers are too small to be ‘statistically significant’, meaning that we cannot say that the data from these groups applies to everyone.
This is what we know so far:
Currently, the virus has not been found in samples of amniotic fluid (the fluid which surrounds the baby in the womb) or in breast milk. This suggests that the virus cannot be caught from amniotic fluid or from breast milk.
In a study of nine pregnant women who had Covid-19 in China, the newborn babies did not have Covid-19 when they were born. Therefore, for these women, the virus was not passed on to the babies either during pregnancy or birth
However, there is one case reported in China where transmission seems to have occurred during birth.
DOES THIS MEAN PREGNANT WOMEN DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE PRECAUTIONS AGAINST COVID-19?
No. Everyone should take steps to reduce their risk of catching Covid-19. Covid-19 can be fatal even to young healthy people. Although there is no evidence at present that pregnant women are at higher risk than the general population, we know that due to changes in their bodies and immune systems, pregnant women can be badly affected by some respiratory infections. It is therefore important that pregnant women try to protect themselves against Covid-19, and report possible symptoms to their doctor. For these reasons, in some countries, pregnant women have been advised to reduce their social contact and practice social distancing.
CAN I BREASTFEED MY BABY IF I HAVE SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19?
There is no evidence so far that the virus can be passed on in breast milk. It is still recommended to breastfeed your baby if you have Covid-19, as this can protect your baby against many other illnesses. You must make sure to wash your hands often and wear face masks, if you can get them. Read more about how to effectively wash your hands here [how to wash your hands article].
HOW SHOULD I GIVE BIRTH?
There is no evidence so far that a vaginal birth or a caesarean birth is safer for mothers with Covid-19, or that either of these is better for preventing transmission of the virus to the baby. However, for all pregnant women, depending on your other health conditions and the health of your baby, your healthcare provider might recommend one or the other. If you think you have Covid-19, you must make sure to call your doctor and tell them. They will be able to advise you on the best options for you.
If you have Covid-19 you must not have a home birth. In a hospital, the midwives and doctors will be better able to look after you and your newborn baby. They will be able to give your baby the best chance of not getting Covid-19.