Pregnancy can be a time of joyous anticipation and excitement for women and their families. By following doctors’ advice and taking some extra precautions, you can enjoy a healthy, happy pregnancy while protecting yourself and your unborn child from the effects of COVID-19.
The overall risk of COVID-19 to pregnant women is low. However, pregnancy increases the risk for severe illness with COVID-19. Pregnant women who have COVID-19 appear more likely to develop respiratory complications requiring intensive care than women who aren’t pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnant women are also more likely to be placed on a ventilator. In addition, pregnant women who are Black or Hispanic appear to be disproportionately affected by infection with the COVID-19 virus.
It isn’t yet known how frequently COVID-19 causes problems during pregnancy or affects the health of the baby after birth. Some research suggests that pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to have a premature birth and their babies are more likely to be admitted to a neonatal unit.
If you are healthy as you approach the end of pregnancy, some aspects of your labor and delivery might proceed as usual. But be prepared to be flexible. For instance, if you are scheduled for labor induction or a C-section, you and your support person might be screened for COVID-19 symptoms 24 to 48 hours before your arrival at the hospital. You might be screened again before entering the labor and delivery unit. If you have symptoms or the virus that causes COVID-19, your induction or C-section might be rescheduled.
To protect the health of you and your baby, some facilities might limit the number of people you can have in the room during labor and delivery. Visits after delivery might be affected too. Your hospital stay will likely be shorter than routine.
If you have COVID-19 or are waiting for test results due to symptoms, it’s recommended during hospitalization after childbirth that you wear a cloth face mask and have clean hands when caring for your newborn. Keeping your newborn’s crib by your bed while you are in the hospital is OK, but it’s also recommended that you maintain a reasonable distance from your baby when possible.
When these steps are taken, the risk of a newborn becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus is low. Research suggests that only about 2 percent to 5 percent of infants born to women with COVID-19 near the time of delivery test positive for the virus in the days after birth. If you are severely ill with COVID-19, you might need to be temporarily separated from your newborn.
It isn’t yet known if the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through breast milk. Limited research has shown no evidence of the virus in the breast milk of women with COVID- 19. If you have COVID-19 or are symptomatic and under investigation for having the virus, take steps to avoid spreading the virus to your baby.
This includes washing your hands before touching your baby and, if possible, wearing a face mask during breastfeeding. If you’re pumping breast milk, wash your hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning. If possible, have someone who is well give the baby the expressed breast milk.
Limit contact with others as much as possible. Instead, consider sharing moments with friends and family via photos, videos, or videoconferencing. Above all, focus on taking care of yourself and your baby. Contact your health care provider to discuss any concerns. If you’re having trouble managing stress or anxiety, talk to your health care provider or a mental health counselor about coping strategies.
Melissa Waddell, WHNP, is a nurse practitioner at Atlantic Ob/Gyn located in Va. Beach and Chesapeake. For information, call 757-463-1234 or visit www.atlanticobgyn.com.