By: Michelle Faber, NBC- HWC, EP-C
Based on current research, pregnant women seem to have the same risk of contracting COVID-19 and the same likeliness of having severe symptoms as the general public. However, pregnant women are known to have had a higher risk of severe illness when infected with viruses from the same family as COVID-19 and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), “pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people.”
There are several things pregnant women should keep in mind to protect themselves and their child from COVID-19.
There are some viruses that can be passed from mother to fetus in utero or during delivery, but respiratory viruses generally are not. More research is needed to determine whether COVID-19 passes to fetus during pregnancy, labor or delivery, but current data suggests that it is unlikely. However, a newborn is susceptible to person-to-person spread of COVID-19 after birth.
Talk to your doctor.
It is a good idea to call your OB-GYN or other health care professional to ask about your birth plan and how your prenatal and postpartum visits may be changed during this time. Women may have fewer in-person visits, or they may be asked to convert their scheduled visits to a virtual format, such as over the phone or an online video chat. You should also call your hospital or birth center to ask about any restrictions on the number of people allowed in the room during labor and delivery. The number of visitors may depend on local recommendations and how prominent COVID-19 is spreading in your area — and may likely include requirements such as face masks.
The CDC has recommended that women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant should get the vaccine when it is available to them, after talking with their primary care provider or OB-GYN. Learn more here about vaccines if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant and are currently breastfeeding or planning to do so once your child is born.
Hospitals are safe to give birth.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) believes the safest place to give birth is still a hospital, hospital-based birth center or accredited freestanding birth center. These organizations are adjusting their policies to ensure a safe environment, such as wearing masks or having the newborn stay in a separate room to reduce the risk of infection for the baby. Every woman has the right to choose where she will give birth, but it is important to avoid risks that might put you or your newborn’s health in danger, especially while there is a high risk of COVID-19. Even healthy pregnancies can have complications that arise during labor or delivery; a hospital setting allows for the best care quickly.
Breastfeeding is safe.
Current evidence suggests that breast milk is not likely to spread the virus to babies. Breast milk also gives babies protection against many illnesses and is the best source of nutrition for most infants. If you are sick and choose to direct breastfeed, wear a face mask and wash your hands before each feeding. If you are sick and choose to express breast milk, wash your hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and before expressing breast milk. If possible, consider having someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant. Talk with your OB-GYN or primary care provider or other health care professional about whether to start or continue breastfeeding.
Take care of yourself.
The most important thing a pregnant woman can do right now is take care of herself and follow the steps recommended by the CDC to protect against COVID-19. This includes proper social distancing, washing your hands often, staying home as much as possible, avoiding people who are sick, and staying physically and mentally healthy. Women should call their doctors if they suspect they have COVID-19 symptoms for virtual care options. If you’re a Priority Health member, you can find everything you need to know about what’s covered for treatment, testing, virtual care and prescription home delivery during COVID-19 here.
We are living through a global health pandemic that can cause anyone fear and anxiety. Being a new mom and caring for a new baby can be a lot to handle. Knowing how to care for yourself and what to expect as you approach delivery day can help ease some stress and anxiety.
About the Author: Michelle Faber, NBC- HWC, EP-C is a national board-certified health and wellness coach on the wellness team at Priority Health. She has a passion for helping individuals find their motivation and purpose to make and sustain healthy lifestyle changes in all areas of life. Michelle is certified as an Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine and loves working with people who are managing chronic disease, pregnancy, and exercise in young children and families. She is also an Orthopedic Specialist through the American Council on Exercise.