COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, has rapidly spread globally. The World Health Organization recently labeled COVID-19 a pandemic. Many of my pregnant patients have expressed concerns, both for themselves and their babies, about the impact of COVID-19 on their health. To answer often-asked questions about pregnancy and the new coronavirus, I’ve teamed up with my husband, an infectious disease specialist and internist. Together, we reviewed the extremely limited data available to provide evidence-based responses below.
Pregnancy and the new coronavirus
As you probably know, the virus spreads through respiratory droplets sent into the air when a person who has COVID-19 coughs or sneezes. It may also spread when someone touches a surface infected by a person who has the virus.
What can I do to protect myself against catching the new coronavirus?
The most important step is to practice excellent hand hygiene by frequently washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose. You should also avoid large gatherings. Social distancing is important to limit the spread of the virus. If you have a mild cough or cold, stay at home and limit exposures to other people. Sneeze and cough into a tissue that you discard immediately, or into your elbow, to avoid making others sick. Hydration and adequate rest also are important in maintaining the health of your immune system.
As a pregnant woman, what is my risk of becoming very ill from COVID-19?
Given that this is a novel virus, little is known about its impact on pregnant women. At this point, experts think that pregnant women are just as likely, or possibly more likely, than the general public to develop symptoms if infected with the new coronavirus. Current information suggests symptoms are likely to be mild to moderate, as is true for women (and men) in this age range who are not pregnant.
If I am pregnant and have COVID-19, does this increase the risk of miscarriage or other complications?
There does not appear to be any increased risk of miscarriage or other complications such as fetal malformations for pregnant women who are infected with COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Based on data from other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that pregnant women who get COVID-19 may have a higher risk for some complications, such as preterm birth, but the data are extremely limited and the infection may not be the direct cause of preterm birth.
If I get sick from the new coronavirus, what is the risk of passing the virus onto my fetus or newborn?
A study of nine pregnant women who were infected with COVID-19 and had symptoms showed that none of their babies were affected by the virus. The virus was not present in amniotic fluid, the babies’ throats, or in breast milk. The risk of passing the infection to the fetus appears to be very low, and there is no evidence of any fetal malformations or effects due to maternal infection with COVID-19.
I tested positive for COVID-19. Can I breastfeed my baby?
Currently, there is no evidence of the virus in breast milk. Given that the virus is spread through respiratory droplets, mothers should wash their hands and consider wearing a face mask to minimize infants’ exposure to the virus.
Can I travel for my baby-moon?
We recommend avoiding all travel at this time, given the concerns that the virus could be widespread, and the uncertainty for travel restrictions (see CDC travel advisories).
Should I reschedule my baby shower because of the new coronavirus?
While a baby shower is a joyous and important occasion, public health agencies such as the CDC recommend social distancing to limit the spread of the virus. Particularly in large gatherings, the risk of possible exposure and infection is quite high. We recommend limiting social gatherings at this time.
What should I do if I have a fever or cough, have traveled from a country in which the virus is widespread, or have been in contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19?
Every hospital has specific rules for the best way to handle these situations. The first step is to call your doctor’s office to inform them of your symptoms, travel, or contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19. Do not simply go to your doctor’s office. It is very important to limit the spread of the virus. Particularly if you have symptoms, it is best to call your doctor first to determine whether you need testing and/or to come in for evaluation.
I am worried that doctors, even obstetricians, will be diverted in an emergency setting and may not be available when I am delivering. Will that be the case?
At this time, there is no plan for any other doctors to be pulled from their regular duties to staff other parts of the hospital. Obstetrics is an essential component of health, and it is unlikely that an ob/gyn will not be present at the time of your baby’s birth. Ask your health care team about this.
For more information about the new coronavirus and COVID-19, please see Harvard Health Publishing’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
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