Bringing a baby into the world should be one of the happiest moments in a woman’s life. But, with current events, namely coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the joy of bringing your new little one into this world may be overshadowed with fear, anxiety and a lot of “what ifs.” It may suddenly feel like your health and the health of your baby is uncertain.
“It can be a very scary time for moms who are pregnant right now,” said Michael R. Foley, MD, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “Not only do they have to worry about their health, but their baby’s health as well.”
While what-if thoughts aren’t necessarily always problematic, they can be if they start to affect your daily life and cause you undue stress. Dr. Foley provides some comforting advice and guidance to ensure you have a happy, healthy pregnancy and delivery.
What are my risks of contracting COVID-19?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence at this time indicating pregnant women are at a higher risk of becoming sick from COVID-19 than the general public.
We do know, however, that pregnancy can reduce a woman’s ability to fight off viruses and infections, which is why pregnant women are considered an at-risk group.
“During pregnancy, a woman’s immune cells basically take a vacation to allow her body to focus on the baby,” Dr. Foley said. “This theoretically places them at a higher risk for severe complications if they are exposed to infections and viruses, particularly if they have underlying health conditions. But it does seem that those who’ve been infected do not have a more severe illness than the general population.”
If I contract COVID-19, am I more at risk for complications?
Since COVID-19 is a novel virus, there is very little current data at this time on how it affects pregnant women. While adverse complications, such as pre-term birth, have been reported, this information is based on limited data and it isn’t clear if these outcomes are tied to the mother’s infection.
“The good news from current research is that there have been zero mortalities reported,” Dr. Foley said. “Of course, things continue to evolve and is ever fluid in nature, but this has been consistent.”
If I have COVID-19, is my baby at a higher risk of getting it too?
While some infections can pass from mother to her baby through the placenta, according to a recent study in Wuhan, China, none of the virus could be found in amniotic fluids, cord blood, placenta or mothers’ breast milk.
However, it is possible for mothers to pass COVID-19 on to their infants shortly after birth from respiratory droplets or particles that leave the mouth or nose of others in the room.
“We are doing everything we can to mitigate this by ensuring moms and providers have proper protective equipment,” Dr. Foley said.
Will COVID-19 change how my pregnancy is managed?
While pregnancy isn’t a disease, COVID-19 has created some changes to how you and your pregnancy will be managed. Be sure to discuss with your doctor so you are aware of the latest changes. Remember, the goal is to ensure the health and safety of mom and baby.
“We’ve moved many patients to telemedicine, unless there are medical reasons they need to be seen in person,” Dr. Foley said. “Even in those cases, we screen patients for symptoms before they walk in the front door and have set up visitor policies for exams and labor and delivery.”
Do I need to change my birth plan?
While there may be some changes regarding visitor policies and safety measures, stick to your birthing plans. Making drastic changes like having home births is where things can go wrong.
“I urge parents to stick with their hospital birth plan,” Dr. Foley said. “Studies show that changing to a home birth poses increase risks to mom and baby. This is particularly true during the time of a pandemic with the potential for busy emergency services.”
To ensure safety, some changes may occur over the course of your pregnancy. These could include:
- Special measures to increase the health and safety of patients and medical staff.
- Non-elective procedures and inductions may not be performed, but planned C-sections and emergency surgeries will still take place.
- While there are still opportunities for pain relief (i.e., epidurals), the use of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) will not be used during the pandemic.
- Many hospitals have instituted policies allowing only one partner or support person, so doulas and other specially trained professionals can no longer be in the room.
“While it’s important to have family and support during this time, we want to reduce the risk,” Dr. Foley said. “Doulas are a very valuable provider of care, so one way of still involving them in care is setting up Zoom or Facetime by the bedside and having them there the entire time.”
Steps You Can Take to Ensure a Happy, Healthy Pregnancy
1. Protect Yourself and Your Baby
While we do know women are more susceptible to viruses and infections during pregnancy, COVID-19 is a new disease and we don’t know if pregnant women are at a greater risk of getting sick.
“So to mitigate this risk, we suggest pregnant women follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, such as hand washing and social distancing.”
2. Take a Break from Social Media and News
“It’s important to stay informed, but there is a lot of sensationalism out there on social media and TV,” Dr. Foley said. “Listening and reading news repeatedly throughout the day can increase stress and anxiety and affect your sleep.”
3. Eat Healthy, Exercise and Get Plenty of Rest
“The best thing for you and the baby is to continue to eat healthy, stay well hydrated and take plenty of time for self-care,” Dr. Foley said. “Talk a walk outside and breathe in the fresh air, stretch, meditate—simple things to keep your mind and body healthy as you prepare for baby.”
4. Opt for Grocery Delivery
If you can, order your groceries online or have them delivered to mitigate risks to you and your family during this time.
5. Discuss Your Birth Plan with Your Doctor
Leading up to the birth of your baby, discuss a birth plan with your provider. This can relieve any additional “what ifs” or concerns you may have about your pregnancy and childbirth. You can discuss things like:
- Where should I go when I arrive at the hospital?
- Who is allowed in the room with me? If my doula can’t be present, can we set up videoconferencing?
- What safety measures are in place for me and my baby?
- What pain relief is available?
- Where will my baby go after delivery?
“As providers, we are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our patients and our staff,” said Dr. Foley. “While these are extraordinary times, our patients should be rest assured they are in good care.”
“There is a lot of misinformation out there right now,” Dr. Foley said. “Follow what trusted experts are saying and not what is being shared on social media.”
If you have any general questions and concerns about your pregnancy and are unable to reach your primary care physician, you can call the Banner Nurse Now line at 844-259-9494 to receive free health care advice 24/7.