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Babies Born to Mothers with COVID-19 Have Low Risk of Infection, Study Shows

mother with covid-19 holding newborn

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study has determined that infants born to COVID-19 infected mothers are unlikely to be infected themselves.
  • The pregnant mother’s placenta protects the fetus from toxins and infections.
  • Moms can bond with their newborn babies after birth, but precautions may be required.

Pregnant people who contract COVID-19 are eating for two, sleeping for two, and with the virus, worrying for two. But a new study conducted by the Karolinska Institute and the Public Health Agency of Sweden may alleviate some of those concerns. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the study found that babies born to mothers with the COVID-19 virus have a low risk of infection.

This information is key as hospitals navigate evolving protocols for how an infected parent can safely interact with their baby after giving birth.

The Study

Researchers studied over 2300 babies born to SARS-COV-2 positive mothers in Sweden, with observation taking place during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, from March 2020 until January 2021.

Sonya Brown, RN

I think these findings could put a lot of moms at ease. It could definitely reduce the stress of worrying about the baby being impacted by COVID.

— Sonya Brown, RN

They found that less than 1% of babies tested positive for the virus within their first 28 days of life. The majority of that small number didn’t display any symptoms, providing proof of the low risk of infection from mom to baby.

The report echoes other findings, including a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Noted Drawbacks

The latest Swedish study is encouraging for new parents wanting to snuggle their newborns, but not without drawbacks.

“They have a very homogenous population and very uniform access to healthcare. In (the United States), we see diversity in genetic makeup and background. There are also disparities. Health care resources are not equal,” says Saima Aftab, MD, FAAP, chief of neonatology at Nicklaus Children’s Pediatric Specialists and vice president, organizational initiatives, Nicklaus Children’s Health System. “When you have a pandemic, it does not affect everyone equally and people don’t respond equally.”

Still, the research could provide an emotional cushion to parents who are fear passing on the virus. “I think these findings could put a lot of moms at ease,” says Sonya Brown, RN, a neonatal intensive care unit nurse. “It could definitely reduce the stress of worrying about the baby being impacted by COVID.”

Protection Starts in the Womb

When a fetus is in the womb, they are surrounded by protective fluid that helps keep harmful toxins at bay. “The concentration (of COVID) is very low in the amniotic fluid. The placenta that creates amniotic fluid creates a nice barrier from the virus,” explains Aftab. “The virus can travel into the fluid, but not a lot, and not very effectively, and not enough to make babies sick.”

“One important role of the placenta is to provide nutrition to the baby. It also helps protect the baby from infections,” explains Brown. “If a mom gets COVID, the mom’s antibodies cross the placenta to the baby. That helps protect the baby in utero and after it is delivered.”

Taking Precautions

The study mentions that parents can nurse their babies without endangering their health. It also states that babies do not need to be routinely separated from their mothers at birth. However, Aftab cautions that it is still important for a new parent overcoming COVID-19 to exercise care.

“Nowhere in this study did they say that the population let their guard down completely,” she emphasizes. Wearing masks and hand washing may still be necessary protective measures.

Parents can also take steps to help themselves and their babies prior to delivery. “The mom should try to enhance her immune system,” Brown advises. Attending doctor’s appointments, continuing prenatal care, and taking vitamins and supplements can help strengthen pregnant people and prepare the for delivery.

Remaining Hopeful

Knowing that a parent has little risk of passing COVID-19 on to their newborn child is helpful and reassuring. The study of Swedish mothers laid a foundation; now additional research needs to be done to test different ethnicities in the United States.

Saima Aftab, MD, FAAP

For us, even though the risk of transmission may be low, we may be causing more harm by making blanket recommendations without stopping and thinking about how it applies to our population.

— Saima Aftab, MD, FAAP

Aftab advises, “we need to make sure we can see what parts of the study and information are translatable. We want to remain cautiously optimistic.”

What This Means For You

The study provides encouraging news for pregnant people who are diagnosed with COVID-19. The rates of transmission are low for newborn infants. Those babies that did contract COVID-19 had few symptoms. Take heart—even if you are battling the virus, it is likely you’ll be able to spend time holding and loving your new baby right away.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Norman M, Navér L, Söderling J, et al. Association of maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection in pregnancy with neonatal outcomes. JAMA. 2021;325(20):2076-2086. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.5775

  2. Flaherman VJ, Afshar Y, Boscardin WJ, et al. Infant outcomes following maternal infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2): First report from the Pregnancy Coronavirus Outcomes Registry (PRIORITY) study. Clin Infect Dis. 2020;ciaa1411. doi:10.1093/cid/ciaa1411