Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately (and if that’s the case, good for you, given the circumstances!), you’ve most likely heard about COVID-19, aka the new coronavirus that has been wreaking the world havoc in the past few weeks and months. But what is it exactly and more importantly, how does it impact you, as a pregnant woman? What should you do to care for yourself and your baby during COVID-19?
The coronavirus everyone talks about appeared first in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019. It then spread rapidly to the rest of the world and is now affecting every state of the US. As of April 13, 11 cases have been reported in Adair County, Missouri.
COVID-19 is a new virus but not a new form of virus, as there are actually hundreds of them in the family. They are called “coronaviruses” because of the protein spikes at their surface that look like points of a crown. Despite their scary zombie-like existence (typical of any virus) and their ability to hijack thousands of human cells rapidly, coronaviruses usually only cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory illnesses in people. For instance, the common cold is a coronavirus. However, since 2002, 3 of these viruses have become popular due to their lethality, including SARS in 2012.
The new COVID-19 is particularly preoccupying for a couple of reasons:
- It is extremely contagious. The virus resides in the upper respiratory tract, where it is easily sneezed or coughed onto the next person.
- COVID-19 is still very enigmatic. Scientists haven’t found a vaccine yet and they still don’t know exactly how it progresses (some people for example have reported a loss of smell or taste, which could be an indicator of the disease) and what long-term consequences it might have on someone’s health.
Symptoms of COVID-19:
As for symptoms, they present themselves in the form of a fever, a cough, and shortness of breath. They usually appear from 2 to 14 days following exposure. More serious symptoms require immediate medical attention. They include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, and more. You can learn about other symptoms and stay updated by checking the CDC website. Because even if we’re still lacking information on the virus, knowledge remains power!
And as a pregnant woman, you need power. The good news is that all is not lost and that there IS hope.
COVID-19 and the pregnant woman:
Are you more at risk of contracting COVID-19 if you are pregnant? For a long time, scientists thought that women’s immune system was highly suppressed during pregnancy in order to prevent the rejection of the baby, which would otherwise be considered a “foreign body”. Yet, research has recently come to the conclusion that this model was erroneous. The American Journal of Reproductive Immunology wrote that “while the presence of the placenta changes and adapts the immune system to pregnancy, it is not suppressed and pregnant women are very much capable of having robust immune responses when mother and/or fetus are at risk.”
It is true that pregnant women are more severely affected by certain viruses such as Influenza A (the flu), hepatitis E and herpes than non-pregnant women. However, it does not automatically mean that you are more at risk. As of the time of this writing, in spite of not knowing if pregnant women have a greater risk of getting sick, the CDC does not put pregnant women in its list of people who are at higher risk for COVID-19. That list contains the elderly, people with asthma, people with HIV and those at higher risk for severe illness (diabetes, serious heart conditions, liver disease, and more). The other good news is that according to the CDC, women do not appear to become sicker from the virus than their non-pregnant counterparts.
COVID-19 and the unborn baby:
Last but not the least, should you worry for your unborn baby if you are pregnant during COVID-19? Even though the research is still limited, experts say they don’t see evidence that the new COVID-19 can be transmitted to the baby in utero. So far, only one newborn baby was tested positive for the disease right after being born, but it is unclear how it contracted the virus. More information is needed about the circumstances of the delivery and the safety measures that were taken.
Furthermore, even if contaminated, newborn babies were not found to have any adverse effects such as respiratory distress or abnormal liver functions.
If you are about to give birth soon, know that no mode of delivery (vaginal birth of C-section) is recommended so far. Experts say that there’s no proof that either method is safer when it comes to avoiding the transmission of the virus to the baby if the mother is infected. After birth, you may need to be isolated from your baby to prevent any risk of infection. According to the CDC, “the virus has not been detected in breast milk; however, we do not know whether mothers with COVID-19 can transmit the virus via breast milk.”
So what should you do?
The recommended precautions for pregnant women are to:
- Cover your cough,
- Avoid people who are sick,
- Clean your hands often using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer,
- Stay in contact with your OB-GYN and space out your appointments if possible, or conduct them remotely in order to avoid exposure to the virus.
It is also greatly advised for pregnant women to stay at home, as we still don’t know the full story of COVID-19.
We hope that this information helps you in these troubled days. Is it time to panic? No, because avoiding the epidemic and staying safe is more than possible. Besides, health experts say that despite the limited data, there are reasons to stay reassured, even when pregnant. If you have any questions relative to pregnancy and parenting, Lifeline is still open during our regular hours. Precautionary measures are taken to avoid contamination, but you can give us a phone call at (660) 665-5688.