What You Should Know About the Delta Variant During Pregnancy

A pregnant person wearing a mask looks out a window

Getty Images / Guido Mieth

Key Takeaways

  • The Delta variant, a strain of COVID-19, is more contagious and causes more severe illness than other variants.
  • People who are pregnant have a compromised immune system. Contracting the Delta variant while you are pregnant can place your baby at risk of premature birth.
  • Medical professionals recommend pregnant women lower their risk of contracting the Delta variant through vaccination, handwashing, masks, and other safety precautions.

If you are expecting a baby, you may be concerned about the possibility of contracting the COVID-19 Delta variant. Like previous strains of the virus, the Delta variant can be more dangerous for pregnant people and their unborn children. Experts answer parents' questions about this strain of COVID-19.

Details of the Delta Variant

Patients who contract the Delta variant may have more severe medical complications if they are pregnant, according to Sherry Ross, MD, an OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “Medical complications include an increase in the incidence of pneumonia, ICU admissions, and the need for intubation,” she says.

Dr. Ross also says that the Delta variant is more contagious than the original variant of COVID-19. This makes it more dangerous and more easily spread to everyone, including pregnant people.

Ronald Dixon, MD

[The Delta variant] is two times as contagious as the original COVID-19 strain, and 60% more contagious than the Alpha strain.

— Ronald Dixon, MD


"The increased risks are related to the infectiousness of Delta," says Ronald Dixon, MD, an internal medicine doctor and the CEO of CareHive. "It is two times as contagious as the original COVID-19 strain, and 60% more contagious than the Alpha strain (previously known as the U.K./B.1.1.7 variant), which was responsible for prior waves of the pandemic throughout the world. Delta is now the dominant strain in the U.S., responsible for over [98%] of new infections."

Risks for Pregnant People

Both the original COVID-19 variant and the Delta variant carry an increased risk of preterm birth. This is due to the virus’s effect on the already compromised immune system of a pregnant person, Dr. Ross says. In addition, pregnant people who have COVID-19 are more likely to deliver by C-section than people who don’t have the virus.

The respiratory effects of the Delta variant and the original strain can cause problems for pregnant people, says Cindy M. Duke, MD, PhD, FACOG. Dr. Duke is a board-certified OB/GYN, fertility doctor, virologist, and medical and laboratory director of Nevada Fertility Institute.

“It is more contagious to begin with and seems to have more severe respiratory manifestations," she says. "This is very significant considering that pregnant patients at baseline tend to take more breaths per minute when compared to non-pregnant persons."

Symptoms of the Delta Variant in Pregnancy

The Delta variant may look and feel just like the original COVID-19 strain. Symptoms can include fever, chills, dry cough, shortness of breath, muscle/body aches, headaches, sore throat, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and loss of taste or smell, Dr. Ross says. 

One of the main differences for pregnant people with the Delta variant is that they may experience a rapid decline in their health. “Pregnant women may get sicker more quickly, especially in the respiratory tract,” Dr. Ross says.

Lisa Hansard, MD, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist at Texas Fertility Center, agrees. She explains that pregnant people are more likely than those who are not pregnant to experience severe illness from COVID-19.

Sherry Ross, MD

Pregnant women may get sicker more quickly, especially in the respiratory tract.

— Sherry Ross, MD

The COVID-19 Vaccine and Pregnancy

The COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection for an expecting parent and their baby, says Dr. Hansard. The contagious nature of the Delta variant, and more serious risks if a person who is pregnant contracts it, mean the COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection.

There was originally uncertainty surrounding the vaccine’s safety during pregnancy. However, it is now widely recommended by doctors in the United States and other countries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective during pregnancy. In addition, studies have shown that vaccinated pregnant people give birth to babies who developed COVID-19 antibodies in utero. 

“This is important because a newborn’s ability to make their own antibodies is not yet fully mature until around 6 months after birth," Dr. Duke says. "If they also continue to receive breast milk from their vaccinated mom or carrier postnatally, they will also continue to receive a replenishment of neutralizing antibodies.”

Researchers continue to track the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for pregnant people. Studies continue to conclude it is an excellent option for preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Dr. Duke wants people to know that the vaccine isn’t going to harm your baby. “The vaccines do not cross the placenta," she says.

"Spike protein does not cause miscarriage. Spike protein does not cause infertility. The changes seen in periods are temporary and what one would see in anyone mounting an immune response and in no way reflect a health change from vaccines,” says Dr. Duke. 

COVID-19 and Premature Birth

Pregnancy is already taxing on a healthy person's body, including the heart and lungs. If a patient is already dealing with an illness, it can be necessary to induce labor or perform a C-section to alleviate the inflammatory stressors on the body, Dr. Duke says.

“Infection or blood clots that stroke out the placenta can also lead to the need to deliver the pregnant COVID-19 patient," she explains. "[This is] in order to rescue the fetus, who may then be receiving decreased or no blood flow across the placenta.”

Your baby will not automatically be born early if you have COVID-19. Rather, your doctor may make the decision to deliver your baby early to protect your health.

Premature birth, Dr. Duke says, can mean more complications for the baby. These include breathing problems as a result of poor lung development, brain and neurological compromise, blindness, the need for repeat surgeries, and other concerns.

“While still in the womb, Delta infection poses a risk of sepsis for mom," she says. "[There is also risk of] blood clots that can cause a stroke of the placenta that can lead to fetal distress or even stillbirth."

How Can Pregnant People Avoid Delta?

While all of the experts above recommend vaccination as the main means of preventing pregnant people from contracting the Delta variant, there are additional ways to protect yourself:

  • Avoid crowded areas and plane travel.
  • Contact your physician if you have cold-like symptoms.
  • Do not touch your face.
  • Practice social distancing by staying six feet away from others.
  • Use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wear your mask and encourage those around you to do so as well.

What This Means For You

The Delta variant is more easily transmitted from person to person, and it can result in more severe illness, especially for pregnant people who are already immunocompromised. If you are pregnant, you can take extra precautions to avoid contracting this variant and should reach out to your doctor if you are experiencing cold-like symptoms.

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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