By Jennie Caven
In these uncertain times during the COVID-19 pandemic, pregnancy can understandably cause increased concern for a mom-to-be. Maternal-fetal medicine specialist, Sean Blackwell, MD, provides insight into questions about COVID-19 and the implications for women who are currently pregnant. Dr. Blackwell is Chief-of-Service at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital as well as Chair and Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Read his responses below to some of the most common questions about COVID-19 related to pregnancy.
1. Symptoms and when to call your OB/GYN
If a pregnant woman develops fever, acute respiratory illness, or other flu-like symptoms, she should call her OB/Gyn or healthcare provider to receive information and direction over the phone. It is not recommended for a pregnant woman to come to her doctor’s office or hospital without calling ahead of time because this may actually increase the risks. Calling her healthcare provider will allow the provider to obtain key information and assess the severity of the situation and then recommend either home treatment or coming into the office for an evaluation. In most cases, it is safer for a pregnant woman to get supportive therapy at home.
2. Does COVID-19 impact my pregnancy?
While we currently do not have robust data regarding the effects of COVID-19 during pregnancy, the available scientific information suggests the risks of pneumonia, respiratory failure, or sepsis is very low. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women should practice the same precautions as the rest of the public to minimize the risk of exposure. This includes covering your mouth while coughing and sneezing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, avoiding large crowds, avoiding those who appear ill, and washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
3. If my pregnancy is considered high-risk, how does COVID-19 impact me?
Similar to the normal pregnancies, there is limited information on the impacts of COVID-19 on pregnancies that are considered high-risk. It is recommended that a pregnant woman continue taking necessary precautions to minimize the risk of exposure and call her health care provider if she is experiencing any possible symptoms of COVID-19.
4. Am I more susceptible to COVID-19 during pregnancy?
It is currently unknown if pregnant women have an increased chance of contracting COVID-19 than the general public or if they are more likely to have serious illness as a result, according to the CDC. In general, pregnant women experience changes in their bodies that may increase their risk of some infection, so it is always important for pregnant women to take steps to protect themselves from illnesses.
5. Will my baby be at risk of contracting COVID-19 during my pregnancy and delivery?
There is little evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be transmitted from a mom to a baby during pregnancy or delivery. However, a few reports exist of newborns as young as a few days old that have contracted COVID-19, suggesting that mother-to-baby transmission of the disease can occur through close contact after delivery (for example, through respiratory droplets). If the mother is symptomatic, it is recommended that the mother and baby be separated until the mother’s status is cleared.
6. If I have symptoms, should I stop breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is not allowed in the case that the mother and baby are separated due to the mother experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. However, the mother can still pump and save her breast milk. Currently, limited information exists regarding the virus and breast milk, but the overall risk appears to be low. Breastfeeding mothers – whether symptomatic or not – should take all possible precautions to avoid any potential exposure of the virus to her infant, including washing her hands before touching the infant. If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric breast pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use, according to the CDC guidelines.
7. Should I reconsider delivering at a hospital?
For women who may go into labor during this pandemic, rest assured that healthcare organizations are taking extra steps to protect individual patients, health care workers, family, and friends. To best protect the mother, baby, and all others involved, many hospitals, including Memorial Hermann Health System, are restricting the number of guests allowed for a delivery. In addition, to help decrease the risk to the mother and baby within a hospital, a patient suspected to have COVID-19 is placed in a negative pressure room in accordance with the CDC guidelines.
8. Is it recommended that my partner and I delay conception?
At this time, there is no reason to hold off on trying to get pregnant; however, the COVID-19 data related to pregnancy and birth is limited. COVID-19 is not believed to cause birth defects or an increase in the pregnant woman’s risk of miscarriage, but it is still unknown if the mother can transmit COVID-19 to the baby before or during delivery. It is also unknown if COVID-19 can be sexually transmitted.
9. Should my partner and I cancel or delay our babymoon?
Yes. At this time, COVID-19 is present in more than 140 countries and all 50 United States. The U.S. has implemented international travel bans, and places where large numbers of people gather are at higher risk (airports, cruise ships, etc.). Any travel setting (in the U.S. or abroad) increases the risk of exposure, and there are already many places where people are being asked to stay home.
10. What other precautions can I take?
Pregnant women should practice the same precautions as the rest of the public to minimize the risk of exposure. These steps include, but are not limited to, social distancing, avoiding large crowds, avoiding those who appear ill, covering your mouth while coughing and sneezing, and frequent hand washing using soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer. If possible, pregnant women should avoid hospitals, medical office buildings, and doctors’ offices unless it is an essential visit.
For more information about the coronavirus and how Memorial Hermann is taking proactive steps to prepare for a potential U.S. impact, visit www.memorialhermann.org/coronavirus.