What Pregnant Women Need to Know About the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Coronavirus is all over the news and becoming more and more concerning with each passing day. This new, or “novel” Coronavirus is actually a part of the family of viruses known for SARS, MERS and the common cold.
As of March, 11th 2020, the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has recently been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. Cases of the Coronavirus are going up in number, and experts are predicting things will get worse before they get better. The Novel Coronavirus, which began in Wuhan, China in December of 2019, has spread swiftly all over China before making its way across the globe.
While little is known about COVID-19, news reports with more information are coming in quickly and at all times, signaling how important it is for everyone to stay on top of their health. Coronavirus is thought to spread through contact with an infected individual through respiratory droplets or by touching infected surfaces without properly washing one’s hands.
For pregnant women, the need to be cautious and care for your needs raises exponentially since immune systems are more sensitive to viral infection. Since it is unknown just how much of an effect the virus has on a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, it is best to err on the side of caution and stay clear of any infected persons.
Are Pregnant Women More Susceptible to Contracting the Coronavirus?
While little is known about the Coronavirus in general, more is being discovered every day. However, there is currently even less information about how this particular strain affects pregnant women.
The CDC, however, does state that “Pregnant women also might be at risk for severe illness, morbidity, or mortality compared to the general population as observed in cases of other related coronavirus infections [including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)] and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, during pregnancy (CDC, 2020).”
It is also important to note that any kind of illness, such as yearly influenza, SARS, MERS, and the Coronavirus can have a lasting impact on a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, especially during the first trimester.
What Are the Risks for Pregnant Women With COVID 19?
Pregnant women who are exposed to or infected with COVID 19 are at risk for more than just complications from the virus itself – the unborn baby is also at risk.
While there is currently little information about the specific risks that COVID-19 has on pregnant women and their unborn babies, there are a few findings so far.
The risk of high fevers during the first trimester has been linked to birth defects.
According to information gained during limited studies with MERS and SARS (both members of the corona family of viruses), pregnancy loss (both miscarriages and stillbirths) were noted.
Based on patients who have suffered from SARS, MERS, and from the limited findings on COVID-19, it is believed that preterm labor, low birth weight, and affected fetal growth can all be factors.
If a pregnant woman is diagnosed with COVID-19, doctors will monitor fetal growth and development very closely with ultrasounds.
Can Pregnant Women Pass the Coronavirus to a Fetus or Newborn (i.e., vertical transmission)?
Currently, there is no evidence that the Coronavirus can be transferred from a pregnant woman to a fetus or newborn via vertical transmission.
However, it is important to know that new information is coming in regularly, so this can change as the illness is studied further.
What About Delivering a Baby?
If a pregnant woman diagnosed with the Coronavirus is to deliver a baby, she must do so in an isolation room to reduce the chance of infection of others. It is also important to keep the mother and baby apart until the mother is cleared of the virus, so as not to infect the newborn.
Should a Woman with the Virus Deliver by C-Section or Vaginal Delivery?
Several factors can determine whether or not a c-section or vaginal delivery would be best. If a patient has severe respiratory distress, it may be better for the woman to have a c-section, or assisted delivery with forceps or vacuum delivery. If a woman is very, very ill, however, she may not be in the condition to undergo a c-section. The doctors are the ones who will make the call.
Should Mothers Travel or Take “Babymoons?”
Currently, it is advised that pregnant women avoid travel, including avoiding domestic flights. This reduces the chance of the mother contracting the virus.
What About Baby Showers, Events and Get Togethers?
Baby showers, events, and get-togethers may seem like they are very important in the days leading up to the delivery of a baby, but with the current situation, it is best to avoid big gatherings while pregnant, especially if someone is feeling sick.
While following the same precautions as others is important, pregnant women should be on higher alert than normal. If this means saying no to friends and family to protect yourself and your unborn baby, then you should not feel guilty about doing so.
What About Once the Baby Is Born?
Once the baby is born, you should limit taking the newborn out of the house for at least six weeks. Only take him or her to pediatric appointments and necessary doctor appointments. This helps limit the baby’s exposure to germs.
What If I’m Developing Flu-Like Symptoms?
If you are developing flu-like symptoms, the first thing that you should do is avoid panicking. This may seem impossible, but honestly, it does not help. Next, be sure to contact your doctor, and he or she will tell you what steps you should take next.
If you have travel history or exposure to certain people – such as those who are sick – talk to an emergency doctor immediately. There are no commercially available testing kits for the Coronavirus, so you can’t just walk into your doctor’s office and get tested as of now.
What About Vaccines?
While vaccines for COVID-19 are currently in development, it will be quite some time before they are ready for use – current expected timelines for a vaccine estimate about a year or more. However, studies and clinical trials exclude pregnant women.
What Happens Next?
Keeping an eye on your own health is the next important thing. Be conservative with travel plans and activities – avoid any unnecessary traveling or large gatherings. Avoid people who are exhibiting flu-like symptoms or who are actively sick with COVID-19.
For more information about COVID-19 and how it’s impacting women who are pregnant, listen to Dr. Ghozland’s podcast with Steven Rad, MD, OB/GYN-Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Los Angeles.