This time last year, I was 36 weeks pregnant with my son. It was my first pregnancy, and I was a rule follower to the extreme. No caffeine. No lunch meat. No jumping on trampolines. I loved doing all those things, pre-pregnancy, but it wasn’t just about me anymore. I was scared that something from the outside was going to possibly hurt the sweet, tiny thing on the inside.
So if you are reading this, know that your worry, which is probably exacerbated by the coronavirus, is understandable. You have a lot on your plate, and there is a lot going on in this world.
What to know if you are pregnant
When you are pregnant, there are changes to your body that are both seen and unseen. One of those unseen changes is the slowing down of your immune system. Your body is doing a lot of work building this little person, and part of that building process often causes your immune system to suppress itself.
With that in mind, a suppressed immune system might make pregnant women more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to OB/GYN Hatem Hatem, M.D. of Acacia OB/GYN in San Antonio.
The word might is used often when discussing pregnancy and COVID-19. There is much more still to be learned about the infection, and particularly to its related effect on pregnant women.
“Based on the limited information available and the small number of COVID-19 cases, pregnant women may be at higher risk of severe illness than the general population,” Hatem says.
With the scarcity of information—and all of the mays and mights—there are no recommendations currently in place specifically geared toward pregnant women, Hatem says.
Another might? Whether a mother can pass COVID-19 to her baby while in the womb.
“Currently that is also unclear,” Hatem says. “There have been a few unsubstantiated reports of infants testing positive after birth outside of the U.S. We do not know with certainty how these infants were infected, and if it occurred during or after pregnancy.”
What is clear is that in the limited number of confirmed cases of infants born to mothers infected with COVID-19, none of the infants have tested positive for the infection. And that’s good news.
What to know when you are delivering
If your delivery date is coming up, a hospital might sound like the last place you would want to be, next to an aeroplane. Again, your worry is understandable, but perhaps not warranted.
Should a hospital intake a person who has been infected by COVID-19, the U.S. CDC has provided step-by-step recommendations on how best to mitigate that risk and keep other patients safe. Those steps include properly prepping for the arrival of the infected patient; placing patients in a single room with a closed door; limiting visitors to the patient, and limiting the patient’s movements throughout the hospital.
If COVID-19—or germs in general—are making you rethink your hospital birth plan, keep in mind that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) still believes hospitals to be the safest place to deliver.
What to know once your baby is on the outside
Once your baby is out in the world, the next level of worrying begins. COVID-19 isn’t helping things, but from my experience, you will worry about everything from whether the pacifier is clean enough to whether you assembled the breast pump correctly. This is just part of the territory.
When it comes to this coronavirus and your newborn, it’s good to be cautious, but it’s also good to be aware that for some reason, children are less at risk than adults for severe symptoms as a result of COVID-19.
With that in mind, should you test positive for the virus or be under suspicion of having contracted COVID-19, there are some steps you can take to limit the potential for exposure to your infant. Hatem recommends that parents wash their hands before touching the infant and that breastfeeding parents wear a face mask, if possible, while breastfeeding.
“If expressing breast milk with a breast pump, be sure to wash your hands before touching any pump parts,” Hatem says. “If it’s feasible, maybe think about having someone who is well feed the milk to the baby.”
While the jury is still out to whether COVID-19 can be passed through breastmilk, in the limited cases to date, there has been no evidence of the virus being found in the breast milk.
What to do now
While there is still quite a bit unknown about this virus and its full impact, the number of confirmed cases of pregnant COVID-19 patients is extremely low. With the level of effort being put forth by the experts, the government and the world at large, the hope is to keep it low.
And although being scared in a time like this is natural, remind yourself that presently, the odds appear to be in your favour. Try not to let anything rob you of the joy of your new baby. Not even COVID-19.
Editor’s note: The author and Dr. Hatem are related.