On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic. We recognize that many families who are expecting have questions and concerns about how this new virus may affect the mother or unborn baby. There are still many uncertainties about COVID-19 and pregnancy, but here is the most up-to-date information to answer some of your questions and concerns.
Are pregnant women at a greater risk of getting COVID-19?
The body in pregnancy undergoes many changes in the blood volume, lungs, heart and immune system. These changes typically put pregnant women at a higher risk of serious illness with other respiratory infections, like influenza. With other types of coronavirus infections (SARS and MERS) in the past, pregnant women did have an increased risk of developing severe illness. So far, with COVID-19, that has not been seen, but this information is based on small groups of pregnant women in other countries who have had the infection. We do not know whether pregnant women are at a greater risk of getting COVID-19 infection, or whether they are at a greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19. So far, the data from pregnant women in other countries has been reassuring and not shown any of these increased risks. Research is ongoing in this area. It is important for pregnant women to be diligent about preventing infection.
Can a pregnant mother with COVID-19 pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy or delivery?
Another concern is whether the COVID-19 virus can be passed to a baby in the uterus or during delivery if a mother gets the infection while pregnant. Studies have looked at this by testing the baby for COVID-19 right at birth and testing cord blood and amniotic fluid for the virus. The small amount of research so far has not shown the virus in cord blood, amniotic fluid or breast milk, which is encouraging. Again, these are small studies and we still do not know for sure if a pregnant mother with COVID-19 can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy or delivery. The primary way the virus can be passed on appears to be from respiratory droplets (I.e. coughing or sneezing). If a mother has COVID-19 at the time of delivery, there is a risk of the newborn becoming infected in this way while the mother is still contagious.
Are pregnant women who have COVID-19 at risk of preterm delivery?
Women who have the COVID-19 infection in pregnancy may have an increased risk of preterm delivery and of having a baby with low birth weight. This was seen in women who had severe infections with other coronaviruses (SARS and MERS) in the past. We do not clearly know yet if these risks are the same for a COVID-19 infection in pregnancy. If you have COVID-19 infection in pregnancy, your doctor may check a growth ultrasound later on in your pregnancy.
I am pregnant. Should I work?
Another frequently asked question is whether pregnant women may continue to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are currently no recommendations for taking pregnant women out of work. Pregnant healthcare personnel should follow CDC guidelines on using personal protective equipment when caring for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Facilities may want to consider limiting exposure of pregnant healthcare workers to these patients, especially during higher-risk procedures (i.e. intubation or other aerosol-generating procedures).
How can I prevent getting COVID-19?
Infection prevention measures include frequent handwashing, avoiding touching your face, staying home when sick and avoiding close contact with others who are sick, and social distancing. See the CDC website with detailed information on infection prevention measures.
What is Altru doing to help prevent the spread of infection?
To help reduce the spread of infection, hospitals and clinics are limiting non-essential appointments and visitors to minimize people in the waiting rooms and hospital. Pregnancy-related care is considered essential and patients’ appointments will continue as scheduled. In low-risk pregnancies, there may be options to safely space out visits or use telemedicine/virtual visits to limit clinic visits. If your provider feels you would be a good fit for any of these appointment changes, their office will reach out to you.
Finally, please be assured that the Altru Family Birth Center is still a safe place to have your baby. Weeks before North Dakota even had a case of COVID-19, staff have been developing plans to keep the Family Birth Center safe in this pandemic. The hospital has limited visitors. For a mother having a baby, you can have one labor support person for your entire hospitalization. That person may come and go if needed but cannot trade-off with a different support person. If a baby is in the NICU, both parents can visit. No children (under age 18) are allowed to visit anyone in the hospital. We recognize that this may have an impact on family you had been planning to be a part of your delivery. Please know that all these measures are being taken for you and your baby’s safety and to prevent COVID-19 from being in the Family Birth Center.
For more information on Altru’s Family Birthing Center, please visit altru.org/baby.