During pregnancy, women’s immune systems are naturally weakened. This ensures that the woman’s body does not reject the developing baby. Thus, pregnant women are at higher risk of viral and bacterial infection. It means their immune system may be impaired in fighting off even the Covid-19 virus and pregnant women may be a vulnerable group or high-risk group for complications or death if infected with Covid-19. We do not currently know for sure if pregnant people have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public nor whether they are more likely to have a serious illness as a result. However, based on available information, pregnant people with no other comorbidities seem to have the same risk as adults who are not pregnant. If you do have an underlying health condition while pregnant, extra precaution is required.
There is still a lot we do not know about how Covid-19 can affect the developing baby. For example; if it can infect the baby while still in the womb, the risk of transmission at birth and the effects of Covid-19 on the placenta. We do know though, pregnant people have had a higher risk of severe illness when infected with viruses from the same family as COVID-19 and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza. However, based on the available data, it is expected that a large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild to moderate cold or flu-like symptoms.
Because in this scenario we are not just looking at one life but two, the fact is that Covid-19 is a new virus that scientists are only beginning to understand. Given that we are still at a stage where we lack information on how Covid-19 really affects pregnancy, the good old saying “Prevention is better than cure” cannot be more apt in this case. It is always important for pregnant people to protect themselves from illnesses.
It is recommended that pregnant women:
- Practice social distancing to protect themselves and their babies. Avoid people who are sick or who have been exposed to the virus.
- Clean your hands often using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Ensure frequently touched surfaces in their environment are cleaned and disinfected.
If you think you have contracted Covid-19, please follow the usual advice to self-isolate and let your maternity unit or healthcare provider know. If your symptoms worsen, please call your healthcare provider to find out what to do next.
It is important that pregnant women are able to do the things that are essential to daily life like taking short exercise and shopping for food, while keeping a distance of 2 meters away from the others.
It is crucial that you continue to attend your antenatal appointments as this ensures you and your baby are safe. If you have symptoms of Covid-19 infection, please self-isolate and let your maternity team know as your appointment may be rescheduled.
- Mother-to-child transmission of coronavirus during pregnancy is unlikely, but after birth a newborn is susceptible to person-to-person spread.
- A very small number of babies have tested positive for the virus shortly after birth. However, it is unknown if these babies got the virus before or after birth.
- The virus has not been detected in amniotic fluid, breastmilk, or other maternal samples.
Breastfeeding if you have COVID-19
- Breast milk provides protection against many illnesses and is the best source of nutrition for most infants.
- You, along with your family and healthcare providers, should decide whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding.
- In limited studies, COVID-19 has not been detected in breast milk; however, we do not know for sure whether mothers with COVID-19 can spread the virus via breast milk.
- If you are sick and choose to direct breastfeed:
- Wear a facemask and wash your hands before each feeding.
- If you are sick and choose to express breast milk:
- Express breast milk to establish and maintain milk supply.
- A dedicated breast pump should be provided.
- Wash hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and before expressing breast milk.
- Follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use, cleaning all parts that come into contact with breast milk.
- If possible, consider having someone who is well fed the expressed breast milk to the infant.
If you have any concerns, please contact your healthcare provider. If you have any serious or life-threatening issue please contact the emergency number of your health care instruction.
Dr. Visham Bhimull
Primary Care Physician
Diploma in Family Medicine (UWI)