Being pregnant can already be stressful, but it’s even more overwhelming given the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes.
There are seven different types of coronavirus known to infect humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many are mild and cause colds, but some forms of the virus can cause severe illness. The form of coronavirus that’s circulating right now is 2019-nCoV.
Coronaviruses typically spread from an infected person to other people via respiratory droplets that get into the air by coughing or sneezing. Touching or shaking hands, or touching a surface that has been contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before you wash your hands may also spread the virus, but the CDC says this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
People who have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 have experienced the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- A new loss of taste or smell
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after a person has been exposed.
Some people with COVID-19 have only mild illness, while others become seriously ill. And others do not show any symptoms, though they can still spread the virus.
It’s natural to have lots of questions about COVID-19 and wonder what the virus means for your pregnancy, especially now that the Omicron variant makes up the majority of infections. Here’s what parents-to-be need to know.
Does pregnancy increase risk for COVID-19 complications?
The immune system changes during pregnancy, and experts have learned that those changes do put pregnant people at an increased risk for complications from COVID-19.
The CDC says the following about pregnancy and COVID-19: “Pregnant people and recently pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant people.” Additionally, “pregnant people with COVID-19 are also at increased risk for preterm birth and might be at increased risk for other poor pregnancy outcomes.”
Scientists continue to learn more about how this virus impacts pregnancy. In the meantime, the best way pregnant women can protect themselves from COVID-19 is to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, practice social distancing (for example, stay at least six feet away from other people), stay home as much as possible and follow the CDC’s recommendation to wear a face mask in public.
Can you get the COVID-19 vaccine if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding?
Yes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 in those 16 and older. Two other COVID-19 vaccines, made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals, are authorized for emergency use. Each of the three vaccines has been shown to be effective against COVID-19 in large-scale clinical trials.
Additionally, the FDA has authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 16.
Leading experts including the CDC, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) recommend that all who are eligible, including pregnant and lactating women, receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Experts note that the risks of contracting COVID-19 while pregnant are likely higher than the potential risks of taking the vaccine while pregnant. The vaccines offer protection against serious illness, including from the highly contagious Delta variant.
Pregnant During a Pandemic
What impact could COVID-19 have on a newborn?
Mos newborns of women had COVID-19 during pregnancy do not test postive when they’re born, but it is possible for a infant to contract COVID-19 from a mother or other caregiver. Infection rates from case studies across the country and world have found that infection rates can range from zero to 12 percent in infants born to women who test positive for COVID-19 at delivery.
Infants are at a higher risk for severe illness than older children due to their smaller airways and immature immune systems, which make them more vulnerable to breathing issues from all respiratory infections. Most babies who tested positive for COVID-19 as newborns had mild or no symptoms, and made a recovery.
What do you need to know about COVID-19 if you’re breastfeeding?
Currently, the CDC recommends receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and a booster shot for all people 18 years and old, including those who are breastfeeding.
The CDC notes that breast milk can help protect babies against many illnesses. Current evidence suggests breast milk is not likely to spread the virus to babies.
If you have COVID-19 and are nursing, take proper precautions like washing your hands before feeding and wearing a face mask while nursing your baby. Or, if possible, you can also choose to express milk and have someone else feed it to your baby.
If expressing breast milk, mothers should make sure to clean their breast pumps properly each time and consider letting another caregiver bottle-feed the expressed milk to the baby.
What happens if you test positive for COVID-19 just before giving birth?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had previously recommended that infants born to mothers with confirmed COVID-19 be temporarily separated to lower the risk that the baby would be infected. In November, however, they released updated guidance that allowed for room sharing during birth hospitalization.
The AAP now recommends the following if a new mother has confirmed COVID-19:
- The mother and the newborn may share a room.
- The mother should keep a “reasonable distance” from the newborn during hospitalization.
- The mother should wear a mask and clean her hands often when caring for the newborn.
- Non-infected family members at the hospital should wear a mask and clean their hands often.
Should pregnant women be concerned about germs at the hospital?
Some moms-to-be worry about being exposed to COVID-19 at the hospital or doctor’s appointments.
Experts stress that it’s still very important that moms-to-be continue to receive prenatal care during the pandemic. Prenatal care providers have made many changes to their services during the pandemic to protect patients, such as spacing out appointments, condensing visits to limit the amount of time you’re in the office and disinfecting frequently. Your doctor may also offer telehealth consulting for some visits.
Other strategies to stay safe when at doctor’s appointments or the hospital:
- Practice good hand hygiene.
- Maintain a distance of 6 feet from others and try to avoid people who appear ill.
- Avoid touching surfaces and then touching your face with unwashed hands.
- Wear a mask at your appointments.