What You Need to Know About How the Omicron Variant Affects Pregnancy

Person holding positive pregnancy test

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Key Takeaways

  • The Omicron variant was first detected in Botswana and South Africa in November 2021.
  • Omicron has several strains, most notably BA.2, BA.4, and BA.5.
  • Pregnant people are advised to take extra precautions to protect themselves and their babies against Omicron.

If you are an expectant parent, it's perfectly natural to feel concerned about the health of your unborn child. In the midst of a global pandemic, those worries may ramp up a notch (or several). You're definitely not alone—it's totally normal to worry about COVID-19 during pregnancy.

The latest COVID-19 development is an unwelcome one—the rapid spread of a new variant, named Omicron. The Delta variant of COVID-19, first identified in India in late 2020, spread rapidly throughout the world. It had been the most dominant until Omicron came along.

What Is the Omicron Variant? 

Omicron is the latest COVID-19 variant of concern. The first report of Omicron to the World Health Organization (WHO) was on November 24, 2021. The strain was detected in Botswana on November 11, 2021, and again in South Africa just three days later.

The following week, the U.S. government SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group (SIG) classified Omicron as a Variant of Concern (VOC). This classification was based on the detection of cases attributed to Omicron in multiple countries and the transmission and replacement of the Delta variant in South Africa. The first confirmed case of Omicron in the U.S. was on December 1, 2021.

Since Omicron was first detected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others in the medical community have learned a lot more about the variant. In general, Omicron causes less severe illness and death. As of late November 2022, almost all cases (99.9%) of COVID-19 in the U.S. are caused by the Omicron variant. The dominant strains of Omicron are BQ.1.1 (32% of cases), BQ.1 (31%), and BA.5 (14%).

How Dangerous Is the Omicron Variant? 

Experts say the Omicron variant spreads more quickly and easily to others, even if the infected person is vaccinated or asymptomatic. 

However, based on the data gathered so far, the Omicron variant appears to cause more mild symptoms than the Delta variant. “It is still not known whether the Omicron variant causes more severe disease in pregnant women compared to other COVID-19 variants,” says Sherry Ross, MD, OBGYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. 

Right now, there’s no reason to suspect that the Omicron variant poses any greater risks to pregnant individuals than previous variants, says Charles Bailey, MD, medical director for infection prevention at Providence Mission Hospital and Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California. 

What Risks Do Pregnant People Face? 

Since COVID-19 first emerged in late 2019, scientists have been studying the effects of the virus and its variants on different population groups, including people who are pregnant

Sherry Ross, MD

It is still not known whether the Omicron variant causes more severe disease in pregnant women compared to other COVID-19 variants.

— Sherry Ross, MD

Because people are already immune-suppressed while pregnant, getting COVID-19 during pregnancy can be dangerous and even deadly. In general, pregnant people have an increased risk for severe illness from the virus than people who aren’t pregnant. According to the CDC, pregnant individuals infected with COVID-19 are also at a higher risk for preterm birth (i.e., giving birth before 37 weeks) and stillbirth. They may also be at greater risk for other pregnancy complications. 

“Pregnant women who contract COVID-19 have higher rates of stillbirths, gestational diabetes, preterm labor, placenta previa, placental abruption, blood clots, respiratory complications, and delivery by cesarean section,” explains Dr. Ross. 

However, research published in December 2022 compared outcomes for pregnant people during a period when the Delta variant was dominant and when the Omicron variant was dominant. It found that pregnant people with COVID-19 were "substantially less likely" to have a preterm birth or to need hospital care during the Omicron-dominant period studied.

Omicron Symptoms in Pregnant People

Essentially, Omicron symptoms are the same as symptoms of other COVID-19 variants—fever, cough, shortness of breath, and "flu-like" symptoms such as fatigue, headache, and muscle aches.

“Upper respiratory symptoms (such as a sore throat) may perhaps be seen more commonly with Omicron and loss of taste or smell less often,” says Dr. Bailey.

Any of the above symptoms suggesting possible COVID-19 infection should be taken seriously.

Do Vaccines Protect Against the Omicron Variant? 

If you’ve been debating getting your COVID-19 shot, now is the time to do it. 

“The COVID-19 vaccine is recommended by all the respected women’s health care organizations to be given to pre-pregnant, pregnant, or breastfeeding women at any time,” says Dr. Ross. “Medical studies support the vaccine's safety and protection to the mother and the baby through her antibodies.”

Carol Winner, MPH

We are learning that the best line of defense against the Omicron variant is the booster shot, which is available to you and to most members of your family.

— Carol Winner, MPH

If you’ve heard that the COVID-19 vaccine can cause miscarriage or infertility, these claims are false, Dr. Ross adds. 

“Omicron may be the new COVID-19 variant, but it’s not likely to be the last,” says Carol Winner, MPH, public health expert and author of children’s personal space book, What Do I Do With My Hugs?. "We are learning that the best line of defense against the Omicron variant is the booster shot, which is available to you and to most members of your family."

On September 1, 2022, the CDC approved updated booster shots from both Pfizer and Moderna that specifically target Omicron (for people ages 12 and up). As of December 8, 2022, children ages 6 months to 11 can also get these updated bivalent booster shots, depending on which primary series vaccine they received (Pfizer or Moderna) and when they received it.

How Do I Protect Myself and My Baby From Omicron? 

Above all, get vaccinated. And if you’re already vaccinated, consider a booster, says Dr. Bailey.

Additional measures to protect yourself from COVID-19 include wearing a face mask if you’re indoors and in close proximity to people you do not know to be vaccinated and free of COVID-19 symptoms and avoiding large gatherings or situations where masking and social distancing cannot be guaranteed.

“Vaccines are COVID-19 resistant, not COVID-19 proof, so recognize that one unvaccinated family member can infect anybody else, including a pregnant woman,” says Winner. “It’s truly a family affair in that everyone who can take control of their health must do so, in order to protect one another.” 

The CDC hygiene guidelines that have been in place since the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic still stand, says Dr. Ross. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. 

By being cautious and following these simple lifestyle habits during pregnancy, you can help prevent a potentially harmful disease—and ease those pregnancy fears.  

What This Means For You

The Omicron variant is more easily transmitted from person to person than previous COVID-19 variants. It causes similar symptoms as other variants, but they don't appear to be as severe for most people.

People who are pregnant and are already immunocompromised should take extra precautions to avoid contracting the Omicron variant. If you haven't had your booster shot, now would be a good time to get that scheduled.

If you have any concerns about the safety or efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine or booster during pregnancy, speak to your healthcare provider.

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.

10 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.
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By Claire Gillespie
Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. She’s written for The Washington Post, Vice, Health, Women’s Health, SELF, The Huffington Post, and many more. Claire is passionate about raising awareness for mental health issues and helping people experiencing them not feel so alone.