What pregnant women need to know about COVID-19
Thankfully, preliminary research suggests that pregnant women are no more likely to get COVID-19 or suffer disproportionately from it.
COVID-19 has brought with it a great level of uncertainty. As the world slowly shuts down and waits for the storm to pass, many assumptions are unravelling. An understudied and vulnerable group is pregnant mothers - is the virus more deadly for them? Can it be transmitted to the baby during pregnancy? What about medical care during this time?
Pregnancy does compromise immunity to a degree, and pregnant women are urged caution even in normal times. Here is what the latest research has to say about COVID-19 and pregnancy.
Some good news first
Thankfully, preliminary research suggests that pregnant women are no more likely to get COVID-19 or suffer disproportionately from it. This is a blessing - SARS was more deadly for pregnant women and had a mortality rate of 25% as opposed to 10% in the general population.
However, this conclusion is based on limited data. A WHO-China study involving 147 pregnant women found that 8% were severely ill and 1% critical, which is less than that of the general population. Another small Chinese study showed that clinical characteristics were similar across populations.
Can COVID-19 be spread in-utero or through breast milk?
There also is no evidence of ‘vertical transmission’ meaning that it does not appear that babies can get COVID-19 in-utero, nor can it be transmitted by breast milk or amniotic fluid. Having said that, some newborns have been reported to be COVID-19 positive, but it was not attributed to vertical transmission.
However, it is very important to note that these studies are limited in their scope, pregnancy does take a toll on immunity and there is a higher likelihood of getting diseases such as influenza during this time. Knowing this, the recommendations for pregnant women are more cautious: do not go out in public unless it is absolutely necessary and wear a mask if you do.
Is there a danger to the baby if the mother is COVID-19 positive?
There is limited information on whether COVID-19 affects the development of the baby, but so far it appears that babies are born without complications. In cases where the mother is severely sick, there may be a risk of premature birth. While there have been cases of preterm birth, they have not been associated with the COVID-19 virion. Research on this is still ongoing.
What about new mothers that are COVID-19 positive?
The US CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has guidelines for breastfeeding and social distancing. It is advised that the baby not be kept in the same room until the mother tests negative, and breast milk be expressed and fed through a bottle by a caretaker. Special care needs to be taken to sterilize the bottle to ensure that there is no risk of transmission. If the facility is unable to provide an isolation ward for the baby, a partition in the room (such as a curtain) is recommended.
Since it is challenging for mothers and family members to stay away from their babies, these decisions need to be made with the hospital administration.
Special considerations for these times
Experts recommend having an agreed-upon plan with the delivery institution. There may be a limit on who can accompany the mother during the delivery process, and these need to be ironed out before.
Similarly, only those hospital visits that are absolutely necessary should be made. For all other purposes, it is a far better idea to speak with your doctor over the phone. Also, check if your hospital has telemedicine capabilities.
There are several clinical trials underway to look for possible treatments and vaccines. Unfortunately, pregnant and breastfeeding women are often not a part of clinical trials due to well-founded safety concerns. What this means is that pregnant women will have to wait longer for a vaccine that is approved for them - and a vaccine for the general population is still a considerable time away. Further trials will be needed to determine safety and efficacy for them.
In conclusion, there is currently limited evidence on how COVID-19 affects pregnancy, but the initial research suggests, thankfully, that it might not be worse for pregnant women and babies. As with any evolving crisis, only time will give a fuller picture.
For more tips, read our article on Coronavirus.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
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