The current global outbreak of COVID-19, commonly called coronavirus, is an issue of great concern for the general population, especially those who are pregnant, elderly or those who have serious chronic medical conditions.
After the 2015 outbreak of the Zika virus, which can be transmissible from mother to fetus and cause microcephaly and other fetal brain defects, it is reasonable to wonder what additional risks coronavirus may pose to pregnant women. Here is what you need to know about the COVID-19 coronavirus and pregnancy.
What Are the Risks of COVID-19 for Pregnant Women?
Because this is a relatively recent outbreak, there simply isn’t a lot of data on pregnancy and coronavirus. Studies need to be undertaken to clarify the specific risks related to COVID-19 for pregnant women.
There is not currently a recommendation for pregnant women regarding the management of COVID-19. However, it is well understood that the immune system changes during pregnancy. Women are often more susceptible to viral infections during pregnancy because the body produces fewer antibodies during this time. The CDC also notes that pregnant women have historically experienced increased risks of illness and death in outbreaks of related coronaviruses (a family of viruses of which this recent outbreak is one member).
An advisory from the American College of Obstetricians states that adverse infant outcomes (such as preterm birth) have been reported for mothers who are positive for COVID-19 during pregnancy. However, it is not certain if these adverse outcomes are directly related to the virus. Similar pregnancy outcomes have been observed with other severe outbreaks of similar viruses. And regardless of the origin, high fevers during the first trimester of pregnancy are also a risk factor for certain birth defects. Keep in mind, this information is based on limited data.
What are the Risks of Transmission During Birth and Breastfeeding?
Much like the risks above, the specific studies for this virus are still being developed. As of now, it is unclear if the COVID-19 virus can pass through the placenta to the fetus. Reports of infants testing positive for the virus after birth are unsubstantiated.
The COVID-19 virus is transmitted through close person-to-person contact. According to the CDC, in limited recent case series of infants born to mothers with COVID-19 published in peer-reviewed literature, none of the infants have tested positive for COVID-19. The virus has also not been isolated from amniotic fluid or breast milk. So while there is a need for further studies specifically designed to address these concerns, current information suggests that transmission of this coronavirus through birth and breastmilk are both unlikely.
However, it is possible to transmit any contagious illness to your baby through the act of breastfeeding, because it involves very close bodily contact. But this is a generalized risk for many parenting activities, not specific to breastmilk. If you are very ill, you may consider bottle feeding through pumped milk or formula or wearing a face mask while breastfeeding.
What Do You Need to Know to Protect Yourself and Your Baby?
Because so much is unknown about the specific risks of COVID-19 for pregnant women, there have been no specific recommendations made by major health organizations as of late. So the advice for pregnant women is largely the same as for the rest of the populations: wash hands frequently and avoid others who are sick. When using hand sanitizer, make sure it is alcohol-based and contains at least 60-90% alcohol.
Most importantly, if you think you may be ill with COVID-19, stay home unless you are traveling to receive medical care. Additionally, you should call ahead to your doctor instead of walking-in. This will minimize your contact with those who are not sick. As always, if you have any specific concerns about your health during pregnancy or the health of your baby, please call your OB-GYN.to discuss it further.
About the Connecticut OBGYN Practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is a CT OBGYN based in Fairfield County, providing care for Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Weston, Rowayton and the surrounding areas. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Women undergoing signs and symptoms of menopause can make an appointment with Laury for Hormone Replacement Therapy. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s health care in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.