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Q&A: Coronavirus and Pregnancy

We still don't know a lot about the effect of COVID-19 on pregnant women and their babies. But here's some information based on what health experts and recent studies can tell us.

Q. Do pregnant women have an increased risk of getting the coronavirus?

A. We don't know if pregnant women are more likely to catch the virus or become seriously ill if they do catch it. We do know that pregnant women have a weakened immune system, so they are more likely to get sick in general. So far, though, it doesn't appear that pregnancy and childbirth increase the risk for infection with the virus.

“If a pregnant woman has symptoms of COVID-19, she should get tested,” says Rebecca Todd, MD, UK/Morehead Women’s Healthcare OB/GYN. “Even if a pregnant woman has no symptoms, she may want to get tested around the time of her due date to be sure she doesn’t have COVID-19. At St. Claire Regional Medical Center, testing is offered to any woman admitted in labor.”

St. Claire HealthCare is currently offering free drive-thru testing Monday through Friday. Appointments and pre-screenings are required. Online screening can be completed at www.st-claire.org/covidscreening or call 606.780.5227.

Q. If a pregnant woman does get sick with COVID-19, will she pass it on to her baby?

A. Again, we don't know for sure. Early studies have shown that transmission during pregnancy is unlikely. However, after birth, the baby can get the virus from the infected mother or caregiver.

Q. What can a woman with COVID-19 expect when she gives birth?

A. Your labor and delivery nurse and OB physician will be in the room with you during your delivery. However, your pediatrician may be standing by outside the room in case they are needed. Women will be able to have a support person with them during labor and delivery. That person would need to be screened for COVID-19. The support person would need to remain in the room for the entire delivery—no leaving and returning.

“Our physicians and nurses have worked very hard to ensure that St. Claire labor and delivery is a safe and supportive place to have a baby (both vaginal deliveries and c-sections),” says Dr. Todd. “You will continue to receive the same amazing care with added protections to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Q. Should a pregnant woman consider a home birth?

A. Delivering your baby is always safest in partnership with a trained and licensed healthcare professional. Please discuss any concerns you may have with your trusted OB provider.

Q. What might happen after the baby is born?

A. If a woman with COVID-19 gives birth, her newborn should be tested for the virus. If the baby also tests positive for COVID-19, mom and baby can still be together in the hospital.

If the baby doesn't have the virus, mom, and her birthing team can discuss whether separation is best. That might depend on:

  • How sick mom is.
  • Whether mom wants to breastfeed.
  • If mom is going to be able to stay separated from the baby once they go home.

If mom chooses to room-in with her newborn, baby and mom should stay 6 feet away from each other, other than when breastfeeding.

Q. How will that separation affect breastfeeding?

A. No study has found the virus present in breast milk. Still, moms who are sick with COVID-19 may want to pump breast milk so that a healthy caregiver can feed it to the baby.

“The OB providers at St. Claire HealthCare continue to recommend and support breastfeeding if mothers are able. Breastfeeding helps protect your newborn from multiple respiratory illnesses,” says Dr. Todd.

A mom who wants to breastfeed despite having COVID-19 needs to:

  • Put on a face mask.
  • Wash her hands and breast thoroughly before and after touching her baby.
  • Constantly clean surfaces she touches.

Q. What happens when mom and baby go home?

A. After hospital discharge, a mom with COVID-19 should stay 6 feet from her newborn whenever possible until she is considered clear of infection. She can either continue to pump breast milk for a healthy caregiver to feed to the baby, or she can feed the baby herself while using a face mask and maintaining good hand and breast hygiene as above.

Healthcare providers will likely follow-up frequently for at least two weeks after mom and baby go home.

Q. How can a pregnant woman avoid COVID-19?

A. Pregnant women should take the same steps as everyone else to avoid infection with the virus. To avoid COVID-19, you should:

  • Avoid people who are sick.
  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Clean your hands well and often.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Wear a face mask to cover your nose and mouth in public.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces you touch frequently.

For more information about pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html.