What to Expect for a Healthy, Happy Pandemic Pregnancy
By: Oluwatosin Goje, MD • Posted on December 17, 2020
It’s natural for women to feel anxious and nervous about their pregnancy and childbirth, but now the Covid-19 pandemic is making it even more worrisome for mothers. With news and research changing almost daily, expectant mothers are sure to feel overwhelmed with what is actually safe for them and their unborn child. I want to make sure that pregnant women know that hospitals are doing everything possible to keep their patients and staff safe and healthy to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19.
Are Pregnant Women More at Risk for Getting COVID-19?
Pregnant women have the same risk of getting COVID-19 just like a non-pregnant person. However, the latest studies from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that when a pregnant woman gets COVID-19, she may be at a higher risk of having a severe infection, including an increased risk of hospitalization and ICU admission compared to non-pregnant women with COVID-19.
To help eliminate the risk of acquiring COVID-19, pregnant women should follow the necessary steps below:
- Wear a mask
- Practice safe social distancing
- Wash their hands regularly
- Get quality sleep: 7-9 hours each night
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins
- Avoid stress and anxiety with deep-breathing exercises, meditation or gentle yoga
Can a Pregnant Mom with Covid-19 Pass it on to her Unborn Baby?
First, we have to remember that COVID-19 is an evolving pandemic and doctors and scientists are learning more about the virus every day. We will continue to acquire and analyze the latest data, but as of today, there is no science backed evidence that mothers transmit COVID-19 to their babies.
Is it Safe for Pregnant Women to go to their Doctor Appointments and Screenings?
Yes, it’s safe and very important that pregnant patients keep their regular appointments, screenings and ultrasounds – whether in-person or virtually. Studies have shown that the women who have had a higher risk of hospitalization and ICU due to COVID-19, had underlying medication conditions like cardiovascular disease, lung disease and diabetes. Your OB/GYN can keep an eye out for these conditions and treat them safely and effectively when you keep your regularly scheduled appointments.
What can a pregnant patient expect when they come to an in-person appointment?
All patients are scanned for a fever and other COVID-19 symptoms. If a symptom is identified at the appointment, doctors will work with the patient to take the appropriate next steps.
What Should a Pregnant Woman do if she has a Cough, Fever or Other COVID-19 Symptom?
Studies have shown that women sometimes have atypical symptoms. Women could experience body aches, diarrhea, headaches and joint pain. If you have symptoms that just are out of the ordinary, things that are not usual for you, the first thing to do is call your primary care provider, Obstetrician Gynecologist, well-woman provider or midwife, and tell them what is going on. They will screen you based on your symptoms and then triage you for the COVID-19 testing. From there, the healthcare provider will decide if you need a higher level of care, or if you can just stay home and be quarantined.
Is a Home Birth Better or Safer than a Hospital Birth During the Pandemic?
The hospital will always be the safest option because childbirth, although it's the most beautiful experience, is also a very dynamic experience. No childbirth is the same, even for a mother that has had multiple children. Every childbirth is unique and you don’t always know what will happen during the birthing process even with the most experienced home birth attendant.
Every mother needs access to excellent care. And with all the rigors of being screened to get into the hospital, we need our mothers to get access to care immediately. If a newborn needs a higher level of care, he or she will need access to the best pediatricians and neonatologist, and that cannot happen from home at this point. I think this is a season where we should all advocate for our newborns to be born in the hospital where healthcare workers are making sure that patients and their newborns are protected.
What Happens When a Mom Tests Positive for COVID-19 Prior to Birthing?
If the pregnant mother tests positive for COVID-19 prior to birthing, she will still give birth in the hospital and receive the same excellent care. Her birthing partner will still be allowed in the birthing room with her. The biggest change is that the healthcare team wears Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to make sure that everybody is protected.
When the COVID-19 positive mother has the baby, the medical team and mother have what doctors call a shared medical decision:
- The baby is not quarantined
- The mother can choose to co-locate with the baby, which means to share a room
- The healthcare team encourages the mother to protect the baby from contracting COVID-19 by always maintaining strict hand hygiene (washing her hands for at least 20 seconds using a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol), always wearing a face covering, making sure that anyone who comes near the baby is healthy and has no symptoms of any infection, and maintain all universal precautions
The mom diagnosed with COVID-19 can also still breastfeed safely, if that is what she chooses. The milk itself is not affected by the virus. There are two ways that mom can breastfeed her baby:
- She can nurse directly form the breast, but making sure she maintains strict hand hygiene, wears a face covering and maintains all precautions.
- If the mother is feeling sick, short of breath, coughing, and unable to breastfeed directly from the breast, she can express the breast milk either manually or using a breast pump. Another caregiver can then give the milk to the baby. If you're going to express breast milk, please make sure that the breast pump is cleaned appropriately every time it's used and make sure that all bottles and pump accessories are all wiped down correctly.
Pregnancy and childbirth should still be a wonderful experience for the mother and her partner, even during a pandemic. Find the birthing experience that works best for you and know that we as Obstetrician Gynecologists are still here for you, wanting to give you the same excellent pregnancy and childbirth experiences – but with extra precautions and safety.
Be Strong, Be Healthy, Be in Charge!
- Oluwatosin Goje, MD
Oluwatosin Goje, MD who leads the Reproductive Infectious Diseases Program at Cleveland Clinic, is an Obstetrician Gynecologist fellowship-trained in Infectious Diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.
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