If you're pregnant or nursing a newborn right now you are likely extra worried about viruses. We want to protect ourselves and our babies during these vulnerable times in our lives and the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus understandably has many new and expecting parents on edge.
We understand that there is a lot of information to take in right now, mama. You've got a lot on your plate and it isn't fair that this is getting thrown at you, too. But please don't let headlines about the pandemic steal your joy. If you are feeling like COVID-19 is making you anxious, please speak to your health care provider and people in your support system.
If you feel like it would be helpful to know more about how the virus can impact pregnancy and nursing, read on.
Are pregnant people at higher risk for Coronavirus?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has no evidence to suggest there will be adverse pregnancy outcomes for pregnant women with COVID-19, although adverse outcomes have occurred during similar pandemics, like SARS, and having a fever is always a risk factor during pregnancy so the CDC does want pregnant people to be cautious and practice good hand hygiene.
The CDC says it does not currently know "if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public nor whether they are more likely to have serious illness as a result. Pregnant women experience changes in their bodies that may increase their risk of some infections. With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses."
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), "At this time, very little is known about COVID-19, particularly related to its effect on pregnant women and infants, and there currently are no recommendations specific to pregnant women regarding the evaluation or management of COVID-19.
"Pregnant women should engage in usual preventive actions to avoid infection like washing hands often and avoiding people who are sick," the CDC notes on its website.
The good news is you are probably already doing that, and the good news doesn't end there.
If a pregnant person gets COVID-19 does the baby get it, too?
A recent study, published in The Lancet, examined the health of nine babies born to moms during a COVID-19 infection. All of the babies had good Apgar scores, scoring in the 8-9 range at the one minute mark and getting a 9-10 by 5 minutes. Additional research published in JAMA examined 89 babies between 1 month and 11 months old who did get COVID-19 (from living with an adult who had it). Of those babies 4 got a fever, 2 had respiratory symptoms and 1 had no symptoms at all. None of the 9 babies needed intensive care or ventilation because none of them had severe symptoms.
The researches behind the study in The Lancet noted that because "pregnant women are susceptible to respiratory pathogens and to development of severe pneumonia" pregnant people may possibly be more susceptible to COVID-19 "especially if they have chronic diseases or maternal complications. Therefore, pregnant women and newborn babies should be considered key at-risk populations in strategies focusing on prevention and management of COVID-19 infection."
If I get coronavirus how will I protect my baby?
So far there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through breastmilk, the CDC notes. Forms of antibodies that protect against coronaviruses have been found in breastmilk samples though, which is good news. That means mothers' bodies are making antibodies and passing those (but not the virus) on to their infants.
If a mother does get COVID-19 they can follow the CDC's Interim Guidance on Breastfeeding for a Mother Confirmed or Under Investigation for COVID-19.
It states, in part: A mother "should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her infant, including washing her hands before touching the infant and wearing a face mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast. If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric breast pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use. If possible, consider having someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant."
As ACOG notes, the primary concern is not whether the virus can be transmitted through breastmilk, but rather whether an infected mother can transmit the virus through respiratory droplets during the period of breastfeeding."
The bottom line about COVID-19, pregnancy + breastfeeding:
COVID-19 is absolutely worth taking precautions for, and while this is certainly a stressful time too much stress isn't good for anyone. If you feel like the worry is impacting your pregnancy, call your health care provider and if you are worried about symptoms you think may be COVID-19, do the same.
Experts suggest not going to the emergency room without calling ahead, so call your OB-GYN or midwife before going to any ER or clinic where sick people may be present.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Shortness of breath
The CDC recommends calling your "healthcare professional if you develop symptoms, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19."
Recommendations may change, so stay in contact with health authorities if you have questions regarding this virus.
[This article was originally posted March 2, 2020. It has been updated.]