One of the biggest concerns about coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, is how this virus affects pregnant women, including their unborn or newborn children.
Pregnant women are considered a vulnerable population who are at risk of viral respiratory infections, such as seasonal flu and COVID-19. As there is no vaccine against COVID-19 infection, standard primary preventive actions are recommended for pregnant women. This includes frequent and accurate hand hygiene, social distancing and avoiding contact with COVD-19 suspects, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). At present, although research is limited, experts do not see evidence that the virus can be transmitted in the womb or affect the baby.
Still, following recent reports that a 23-day old from India was found positive with COVID-19 and a newborn baby in UK tested positive moments after being born, it is clear we need additional data about the disease before any conclusions can be drawn.
Here, we take a look at how pregnant and lactating women can do to protect and prepare themselves during COVID-19.
How can pregnant women protect themselves and others?
- Clean your hands frequently. Wash hands with soap and water or, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer(if soap & water is not available):
- Before eating, after using the toilet
- After blowing the nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After having been in public places
- After having touched surfaces in public places
- After having touched other people
- Avoid contact with sick individuals, especially those with a cough
- Avoid going out unless it is absolutely required
- Avoid touching face, mouth, nose and eyes
- Avoid events, meetings including any social gatherings
- Strictly adhere to social distancing practices if COVID-19 pandemic is spreading in your community:
- Avoid crowds, particularly in poorly ventilated or confined spaces
- Complete your grocery shopping at usual off-peak hours if you do not have anyone else to go, or get it delivered
- Avoid using public transport, especially during rush hours
How can pregnant and lactating women prepare themselves?
- Continue to practice hand hygiene. Washing your hands, often with soap and water, or an alcohol-based sanitizer is crucial.
- Practise Social Distancing. Keep at least 6-feet distance between yourselves and others, and avoid all crowded spaces.
- Avoiding touching your face, mouth, eyes and nose with unclean hands.
- Practise respiratory hygiene. Cover your mouth and nose with the bent elbow or use tissue while coughing and sneezing and dispose of the used tissue immediately.
- Stay physically active if your doctor has given you the go-ahead to do so.
- Talk to your doctor or antenatal care provider about your concerns about COVID-19.
- Call your doctor or antenatal care provider and discuss on how to proceed with your antenatal appointments and delivery plan. And, discuss on how to proceed, in case you become sick with COVID-19.
- Have OTC (over-the-counter) medicines as well as medical supplies like tissues, thermometer, etc. to treat fever. If you are using any prescription medications, refill them, or consider using the doorstep medicines delivery Apps to get your medications.
- Have enough household items and groceries, approximately 1-month in advance. But, prepare gradually to avoid panic buying.
- Activate your social network. Be regularly in touch with family, neighbours/community, friends, health care providers. Make joint plans with them on what to do if you become sick or when you go into labour during the lockdown during COVID-19 outbreak in your community.
If you show any COVID-19 symptoms, call your nearest healthcare centre, or call: 1075 or 011 2397 8046
Related Article: Can a COVID Positive Mother Breastfeed?
Frequently Asked Questions
Are pregnant women at a higher risk from COVID-19?
There is no study or evidence, at present that says pregnant women are at higher risk of severe illness compared to non-pregnant women.
However, owing to changes in their bodies and immune systems, they are vulnerable to get more affected by some respiratory infections. Therefore, they must take precautions to protect themselves against COVID-19, and report any potential symptoms (fever, cough, or difficulty breathing) to their doctor or healthcare center immediately.
Should pregnant women be tested for COVID-19?
Eligibility and the testing protocols differ depending on your current location. However, WHO recommends that pregnant women with COVID-19 symptoms should be prioritized for testing. If a pregnant woman is tested positive for COVID-19, she may need specialized care.
Can COVID-19 be transmitted from a mother to her unborn or newborn child?
We still do not know this. Although research is limited, available data(till date), does not show that the virus can be transmitted to unborn or newborn babies from mothers during pregnancy or delivery. So far, COVID-19 virus was not found in the samples of breastmilk or amniotic fluid.
What care should healthcare facilities provide to women during pregnancy and childbirth?
All pregnant women, including those suspected or confirmed with COVID-19 infections, should be provided with high-quality care before, during and after childbirth, including antenatal, postnatal, newborn, intrapartum as well as mental health care. A safe and positive childbirth experience as per WHO includes:
- Being treated with respect and dignity
- Having a companion of choice present during delivery
- Clear communication by maternity staff
- Appropriate pain relief strategies
- Mobility in labour where possible, and birth position of choice
If COVID-19 infection is suspected or is confirmed, care providers should take all suitable precautions to reduce infection risks to themselves and others. This includes hand hygiene, as well as proper use of protective clothing like the gown, medical mask and gloves.
Do pregnant women with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection need C-Section (Caesarean section) for safety?
No. WHO recommends that C-Sections (caesarean sections) should only be done when it is medically justified. The mode of birth should be customized and based on the woman’s preferences together with obstetric indications.
Can women with COVID-19 breastfeed?
Yes! According to WHO, women infected with COVID-19 can breastfeed. However, they should:
- Practice respiratory hygiene during feeding (covering mouth or using a tissue while coughing or sneezing, or wearing a mask where available)
- Washing hands before and after touching the baby
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces they have touched, routinely
Can a COVID-19 infected pregnant woman touch or hold her baby?
Yes! Early, exclusive breastfeeding and close contact with mother helps a baby to thrive. WHO recommends pregnant woman should be supported to:
- Breastfeed her baby safely, with good respiratory hygiene
- Hold her newborn skin-to-skin
- Share a room with her baby
The pregnant woman should wash her hands before and after touching her baby and keep all frequently touched surfaces clean.
What if a lactating COVID-19 infected mother is too unwell to breastfeed?
According to WHO, if a lactating mother infected with COVID-19 or other complications is too unwell to breastfeed her baby, she should be supported to safely offer her baby with breastmilk in a convenient, possible way that is acceptable to her. This may include:
- Expressing milk
- Donor human milk
The Bottom Line
Although research on the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy is limited, experts say the data available till date is reassuring, and the virus does not seem to transmit through the womb.
Pregnant women appear to be at the same risk as the non-pregnant women of the same age. Still, it is crucial to be aware of the situation with COVID-19 infection and take the right precautions to protect yourself and your baby.
Please note: All the data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Please follow our updates for the most recent information on the COVID-19 outbreak.