What Pregnant Women Need To Know About Coronavirus

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Key Takeaways

  • The World Health Organization cautiously concluded that pregnant women are not at higher risk for COVID-19
  • Influenza, SARS, and MERS can lead to adverse birth outcomes such as premature birth and low birth weight 
  • More data is still needed to draw firm conclusions on the link between pregnancy and the novel coronavirus

If you are pregnant, it’s natural that you would feel concerned about the new coronavirus, COVID-19, that is rapidly spreading across the globe. Although many cases of the virus are mild, the virus is causing serious illness and death in some cases. You are probably wondering how the virus might affect you and your most important asset: your growing baby.

The truth is that, although coronaviruses are common (both SARS and MERS are coronaviruses), COVID-19 is a new coronavirus, and experts still don’t know for sure how it is affecting different populations and risk groups.

However, many experts are cautiously optimistic that pregnant women are no more likely to experience adverse symptoms than other population groups—and the same is true for their babies.

As we get more information about COVID-19, you should stay in close contact with your doctor, and follow updates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in terms of guidance and risks as you move through your pregnancy.

How Susceptible are Pregnant Women to COVID-19?

In general, pregnant women are more susceptible to illness than non-pregnant women, as pregnancy decreases your immune system response. “Pregnant women experience immunologic and physiologic changes which might make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19,” explains the CDC.

Again, there is limited information as of now about how COVID-19 in particular affects pregnant women. But based on the previous outbreaks of coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) warns that pregnant women “may be at higher risk of severe illness, morbidity, or mortality compared with the general population.”

What the Research Says

But what about COVID-19 specifically, you may ask? Again, the data is limited, but the information we do have points to a possible less severe outcome in terms of illness severity for pregnant women.

In February 2020, the medical journal The Lancet published a very small study about the effects of COVID-19 on pregnant women.

Here’s what to know about the study:

  • Nine pregnant women who tested positive for COVID-19 were studied
  • All of the women delivered in Wuhan, China in January 2020
  • None of the mothers developed severe symptoms of illness or pneumonia
  • None of the mothers died
  • COVID-19 was not found in the amniotic fluid, cord blood, or breastmilk of the mothers
  • The newborns themselves were not born infected with COVID-19

In an interview, Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, OB-GYN at NYU Langone Health, and founder of Saving Mothers, said that the study does point to optimistic outcomes for pregnant mothers, but urges cautious optimism when it comes to the results of the study.

“That was a very cautious, positive sign,” Dr. Shirazian explained. “But the reason we can’t say ‘that’s amazing’ is that we don’t know about the first or second trimester. Does the virus impact the fetus?”

A report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in February 2020 found similar results.

Here’s what the WHO report found:

  • The report looked at 147 pregnant women
  • 64 were confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, 82 had suspected cases, and 1 had no symptoms
  • 8% of those women had “severe disease”; 1% were critical
  • The WHO concluded that: “As opposed to Influenza A(H1N1), pregnant women do not appear to be at higher risk of severe disease.”

How Does COVID-19 Affect Pregnancy?

Pregnancy Loss

Unfortunately, at this time, there is no information about how COVID-19 affects the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. However, as the CDC points out, pregnancy loss “has been observed in cases of infection with other related coronaviruses [SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV] during pregnancy.” Again, the only studies we have about COVID-19 looked at women in their third trimesters, which is important to keep in mind as you consider the risk of miscarriage.

Adverse Outcomes for Babies

As the CDC mentions, it is known that high fevers increase the risk of birth defects in babies. In general, says the CDC, there is evidence that viruses like influenza can cause adverse outcomes for babies, such as premature birth and low birth weight. Other coronaviruses—SARS and MERS—have been associated with preterm birth and small-for-gestation age babies.

On a more positive note, the babies born to mothers with COVID-19 that have been studied thus far (again, these studies are small and only looked at end of pregnancy outcomes) have not shown adverse health outcomes.

Can a Pregnant Mom Pass COVID-19 to Her Baby?

As the CDC explains, “Whether a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can transmit the virus that causes COVID-19 to her fetus or neonate by other routes of vertical transmission (before, during, or after delivery) is still unknown.”

So far, though, there have been no recorded cases of mothers transmitting COVID-19 to their babies in utero. The Lancet study found no transmission of COVID-19 from mother to baby, and the virus was not found in amniotic fluid or cord blood.

Are There Special Precautions a Pregnant Mom Should Take?

As a general rule, pregnant women should always take extra precautions to avoid contracting an illness, because of the risk it poses to both them and their developing babies. And because there is still so much we don’t know about COVID-19, it makes sense for pregnant women to continue to be vigilant in terms of protecting themselves from infection.

“In general, although there is no evidence to suggest pregnant moms get sicker or spread the virus to their infants, I would recommend taking the standard precautions to avoid infection,” Dr. Chad R. Sanborn, a pediatric infectious diseases doctor at KIDZ Medical Services in Florida, explained in an interview.

Here are Dr. Sanborn’s top recommendations:

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when hand washing is not possible
  • Make sure to stay away from sick people
  • Stay home whenever possible if you are sick
  • Don’t forget the basics: get enough sleep and keep a healthy diet
  • Make sure all your routine vaccines, including influenza, are up to date

What Should a Pregnant Mom Do If She Suspects She Has COVID-19?

If you are experiencing what you think are symptoms of COVID-19, it’s understandable that you would be very concerned! Remember that your doctor or midwife is there for you should you have any concerns. During a time like this, and any time during your pregnancy, you should never hesitate to reach out if you have worrying health symptoms.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Many COVID-19 symptoms resemble those of the common cold and flu; often only mild cold symptoms are found. Other symptoms of COVID-19 are as follows:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

According to the CDC, it takes about 2-14 days to show signs of the virus after you’ve been exposed, and most people are infected via respiratory droplets from close contact with people who are already infected.

Steps to Take If You Suspect COVID-19 Infection

If you are a pregnant mom exhibiting any signs of COVID-19 or may have had contact with someone who was infected with it, it’s best to call your doctor right away to discuss your concerns, possible testing, treatment options, as well as any next steps.

Your doctor will assess your symptoms, review your travel history, and decide whether you may be infected with COVID-19. If your doctor is concerned, they may order testing, though there are limited tests available in the United States at this time.

“If you are pregnant and showing symptoms of COVID-19, you should talk to your doctor," Dr. Shirazian’s advises. "As things unfold, you may be tested for COVID-19. If you test positive for COVID-19, you and your doctor will discuss various types of management, but it’s likely your pregnancy will be monitored more closely.”

A Word From Verywell

If you are a pregnant mom, it’s completely understandable that you may feel extra concerned, worried, and of course, protective of your growing baby. At the same time, you don’t want your worry about COVID-19 to consume you.

As of now, the CDC still considers the risk of COVID-19 to be low for most of the American public, though your risk is greater if you live in a community where COVID-19 has spread, are a healthcare worker providing care to COVID-19 patients, have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, or have traveled to areas of the world where community spread is occurring.

Your best bet now is to stay vigilant, practice smart hygiene and safety procedures, but not let fear overwhelm you. Knowledge is also power here. Make sure to keep up with COVID-19 updates from reputable sources, such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), as the recommendations for pregnant women may change as more information about the disease is gathered.

Finally, your doctor or midwife is there for you to answer any questions you have. Their top job is to protect you and your growing baby, so you should never hesitate to reach out with questions, both large or small.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Practice Advisory: Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Updated 2020.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions and Answers: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Pregnancy. Updated March 2020.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary. Updated March 2020.

  • J Qiao. The Lancet. What are the risks of COVID-19 infection in pregnant women? 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30365-2.

  • World Health Organization. Report of the WHO-China joint mission on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Published February 2020.