As hospitals and medical professionals are scrambling to care for an influx of coronavirus patients while bracing for exponentially more, pregnant women should expect to experience some changes to their typical prenatal care.
The good news is that currently available data suggest that pregnant women aren't at an increased risk for contracting COVID-19, and that if they are infected, the illness doesn't seem to be passed on to their babies. However, because very little is still known about the virus, there are currently no recommendations specific to pregnant women regarding the evaluation or management of this disease. Here's what doctors and researchers do know so far.
Are Pregnant Women at a Greater Health Risk Due to the Coronavirus?
Very small studies have indicated that women who are pregnant are not among the demographics of people, like the immunocompromised and the elderly, who are more susceptible to getting the coronavirus. Nonetheless, according to an advisory statement issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pregnant women should still be considered an "at-risk population" for COVID-19 because they are known to be at a greater risk of severe illness or even death from other respiratory infections such as the flu and SARS.
Put simply, women naturally have decreased immunity during their pregnancies, so it's still possible they could contract it.
Can Pregnant Women's Unborn Babies Contract the Virus From Their Mother?
Initial evidence from two China-based studies indicates that pregnant women infected with COVID-19 don't appear to pass it to their babies. In a small study published in The Lancet earlier this month, women who had the virus during their third trimester were tracked. They all delivered via C-section and gave birth to infants in relatively good health. Researchers found no evidence of the virus in samples of amniotic fluid or umbilical cord blood from six moms, nor from throat swabs in six babies.
More recently, Chinese researchers who followed four pregnant women who tested positive for COVID-19 reported that they gave birth to full-term infants who did not develop serious symptoms like fever, cough, or diarrhea. Of the three babies tested for the virus, none had it. This study, which was published Monday in Frontiers in Pediatrics, surmised that "all of the four babies are doing well."
Can Women Breastfeed Their Babies If They Tested Positive For COVID-19?
The earlier Lancet study also found no evidence of the virus in samples of breast milk taken from mothers who had COVID-19. Although the ACOG noted that there are rare exceptions when breastfeeding or feeding expressed breast milk is not recommended, they did note that the primary concern is not whether the virus can be transmitted through the milk, but rather whether an infected mother can transmit it through respiratory droplets during the period of breastfeeding.
"A mother with confirmed COVID-19 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 breastfeeding," the ACOG statement said. "If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric breast pump, consider having someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant."
What Should Pregnant Women Expect in Terms of Restrictions at Their Hospital?
The ACOG has requested that ob-gyns begin offering virtual appointments as much as possible and to plan for "a decreased health care workforce, potential shortage of personal protective equipment, and limited isolation rooms."
Meanwhile, several hospitals — including Jefferson Health in Philadelphia and UC San Diego in California — are requiring patients undergo risk assessment screenings before entry and are alerting patients that anyone with COVID-19 will be treated in a separate, designated area of the building.
In the past, an expectant mother could bring in her partner as well as a parent, doula, or birth photographer. Now, facilities are considering restricting the number of people admitted into a maternity ward. At NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, only one support person per patient is allowed. Even more extreme, New York's Columbia University Medical Center is no longer allowing any visitors, including partners, for women admitted in labor.
According to Dr. Dena Goffman, chief of obstetrics at Columbia University Medical Center, it was a "very difficult decision and not one taken lightly" but nonetheless essential in light of coronavirus risk. The hospital, Goffman said, is looking into ways for families to participate virtually in childbirth: perhaps through tablets.
Most maternity wards around the nation haven't seen a shortage of staff, medical supplies, or beds. According to Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an ob-gyn at Langone Medical Center who is also the ACOG's chairperson in New York, expectant moms should still feel confident in their care.
As she told Today: "[They] should feel very reassured the entire medical system all over the country is very geared towards keeping every single patient as safe and healthy as possible."
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.