Pregnancy and COVID-19: How Risky is the Situation?

3 min read

Ananya Bhattacharjee
Writer. Musician. Mother. Reading, music and travelling are all time favourites. Been into ‘writing’ from the last 10 years and have become an everlasting love since I started.

On April 14th, 2020 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the lockdown would be implemented till midnight. But a day before speculations were doing the rounds that the lockdown would be further extended. 

Monmi was in a panic, it is her final pregnancy trimester, and she is expecting delivery by May first week. The chances of a lockdown extension mean difficulty in last-minute tests before delivery and the inconvenience she might have to face in the hospital during delivery. And it happened! The lockdown is extended until May 3 in India. Monmi became more worried thinking about how things may be like when the delivery date arrives. Will she be allowed to have attendants? Will she be able to deliver her baby safely amidst the Coronavirus pandemic situation? 

This is the situation of my friend and pregnant women in India and countries across the world who are worried about the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the globe and doesn’t seem to budge from its place. For expectant mothers who have deliveries in the coming months, this scenario is critical and a big worry as they and the hospitals have to take extra care. Be it the pregnant women who are already COVID-19 positive or the pregnant women who don’t have any trace of the virus, this time calls for additional precaution. As such, we make an effort to help expecting mothers by answering the most common COVID-19 related questions on their mind:

Are pregnant women at high risk from COVID-19? 

At present, there is ongoing research to understand the impacts of COVID 19 infection on pregnant women. Though there is limited data, there is no evidence yet to show that expecting mothers are at a higher risk of COVID-19 than the general population. However, as during this period, women go through many changes in bodies and immune systems, they can be affected by certain respiratory infections. As such, pregnant women must take precautions for protection against COVID-19, and report any possible symptoms like fever, cough, or difficulty breathing immediately to their healthcare provider.

How can pregnant women protect themselves from COVID-19?

Pregnant women should consider extra precautions to avoid COVID-19 infection. They can protect themselves by:

  • Washing their hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Maintaining the distance between themselves and other people and avoiding any crowded space. 
  • Avoid touching the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Practice effective respiratory hygiene by covering the mouth and nose with bent elbow or tissue during sneezing and coughing and then disposing of the tissue immediately.

If pregnant women witness any fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, they should immediately seek medical care and follow directions of the local health authority. Pregnant women and women who have recently delivered should regularly attend their routine care appointments. 

If the women are in their third trimester (more than 28 weeks pregnant), then they should be particularly attentive to social distancing and minimize any contact with others.

Should pregnant women be tested for COVID-19?

The testing protocols and eligibility of tests for COVID-19 depend on where the pregnant women live. According to the World Health Organization, pregnant women who have COVID-19 symptoms should be prioritized for testing. If they are found to have positive symptoms of COVID-19, they will need specialized care.

What care should be available during pregnancy and childbirth?

All pregnant women, including the ones with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 symptoms, should be given high-quality care before, during, and after their delivery. This care includes antenatal, newborn, postnatal, intrapartum, as well as mental health care. They have a right to:

  • Being treated respectfully and with dignity;
  • Having a companion of choice/attendant present during delivery;
  • Effective communication by the hospital maternity staff;
  • Appropriate pain relief strategies:
  • Mobility in labor where possible, and birth position of choice.

For pregnant women with positive COVID-19 symptoms, health workers should take specified appropriate precautions to reduce risks of the virus infection to themselves as well as others. They should practice proper hand hygiene and use protective clothing like gloves, gowns, and medical masks. 

Can women with COVID-19 breastfeed?

Yes, COVID-19 positive women can breastfeed. They should:

  • Practice appropriate and strict respiratory hygiene during breastfeeding like wearing a mask wherever available;
  • Wash hands before and after touching the baby;
  • Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces.

Can a COVID-19 positive mother hold her newborn baby?

Yes, COVID-19 positive mother can hold her newborn baby. Close contact and exclusive breastfeeding help a mother-baby bonding to thrive. The mother should be given essentials to:

  • Breastfeed safely, with proper and adequate respiratory hygiene; 
  • Hold their newborn skin-to-skin, and
  • Share a room with the newborn baby

The mother should regularly wash their hands before and after touching the baby and keep all surfaces in the place clean.

Will an attendant be allowed on the postnatal ward?

To ensure social distancing is in practice and to prevent any spread of COVID-19, visitor restrictions would be in place across the hospital, including antenatal or postnatal wards. The mother should be reassured that at this time, midwifery, obstetric, and support staff will work to their best of capabilities to support the needs of all pregnant women and the practical challenges of caring for newborns after delivery.

Will the newborn be tested for COVID-19?

If the mother has confirmed or suspected coronavirus during delivery, doctors who specialize in the care of newborn babies (neonatal doctors) will examine the infant and advise the mother accordingly about their care, including whether the newborns need Coronavirus testing.

It is always safe and best to be prepared and not scared. Pregnant women need to take simple safety actions like washing their hands thoroughly and limiting their time in crowds and among people. This will go a long way to protect the mother as well as the baby.