JACKSON, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Medical Center is working to keep its patients safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes pregnant patients and newborns.
The good news is that compared to other viral infections, COVID-19 does not appear to cause an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects, says Dr. Marty Tucker, professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UMMC.
“Additionally, if a pregnant woman or her newborn baby contracts COVID-19, it appears that the chance of severe illness is low,” Tucker said.
However, regardless of pregnancy, all people should limit their risk of COVID-19 exposure in order to protect themselves and others around them.
“We all need to follow the recommendations given to us by public health agencies, our government authorities and our employers,” Tucker said. “Follow the advice from your doctors and health care providers.”
This includes social distancing, avoiding travel, avoiding contact with people who are or may be infected, and being vigilant of symptoms of COVID-19 infection, such as fever, shortness of breath, sore throat and cough.
Below, Tucker answers COVID-19 questions based on March 2020 guidance from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. Note that these recommendations are based on current knowledge and experiences during the pandemic. As more data regarding COVID-19 emerges, this advice may change.
“In some instances, this guidance is not black and white. These recommendations may change on a daily basis,” Tucker said. “We will be following the evolution of these recommendations and provide updates accordingly.”
I am pregnant. Am I at higher risk of contracting COVID-19?
No. Pregnancy does change your immune system, making you more susceptible to some viral respiratory infections. However, based on limited data so far, pregnancy does not make someone more susceptible to COVID-19.
How might coronavirus affect my pregnancy?
The data from the present COVID-19 pandemic is limited. In previous data, women with other non-COVID-19 coronavirus infections do not show increased rates of miscarriage or stillbirth.
Other viral infections during pregnancy, such as influenza, have been associated with low birth weight and preterm birth. Having a high fever early in pregnancy may also increase the risk of certain birth defects. Currently, we do not know if COVID-19 has a similar effect.
Can I transmit COVID-19 to my baby during pregnancy or delivery?
No. The few case studies of babies born to mothers with COVID-19 published in peer-reviewed literature showed that none of the infants tested positive for COVID-19. There have been no reports of mother-to-baby transmission for other coronaviruses. Additionally, no virus has been detected in amniotic fluid or breast milk samples.
There have been reports of newborns as young as a few days old with COVID-19 infection, suggesting that a mother can transmit infection to her infant through close contact after birth.
Is it safe for me to deliver at a hospital where there have been COVID-19 cases?
Yes. Hospitals are taking great precautions to keep patients and health care providers safe.
I am a health care worker. Should my doctor excuse me from work since I am pregnant?
No. You may continue to work in a clinical setting and should adhere to standard precautions as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for Prevention. Limit your exposure to patients who are or may be infected with COVID-19. Avoid aerosol-generating procedures such as intubation, airway suctioning, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and sputum collection.
If you are exposed to COVID-19, you should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days, including checking your temperature twice daily. If you develop a fever of 100.4° F or greater, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat or gastrointestinal symptoms, you should stay home from work. If your symptoms worsen, you should call your obstetrician to arrange a follow-up.
I work in a school, the travel industry or other high-risk setting. Should I stay home from work?
You should ask your employer about what is being done to protect employees and minimize the risk of infection. Wash your hands often. Practice social distancing with six feet of space between you and others, if possible.
Should we delay trying to conceive during the COVID-19 pandemic?
No. It does not appear that COVID-19 causes birth defects or increases your risk of miscarriage. However, we do not know if the virus lives in semen or can be sexually transmitted.
We plan to travel during the pregnancy or shortly after our baby is born. Is this OK?
No. COVID-19 is a global pandemic, with cases detected in all 50 states and most countries. Places where large numbers of people gather, such as airports, are high-risk areas for COVID-19 exposure. Even traveling by car in the United States increases your risk to exposure.
Will the hospital separate me from my newborn and keep my baby in quarantine?
No. If you do not have COVID-19 and have not been exposed to the virus, the hospital will not separate you from your baby.
If you do test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed, it may be recommended that you be separated from your baby to decrease the risk of transmission to your baby. Each hospital may have different recommendations for which babies should be quarantined and how long this quarantine may last.
Can I breastfeed or pump for my child if I have COVID-19?
Yes. It does not appear that COVID-19 can be passed though breast milk. With proper washing techniques of pumping parts, milk can be effectively pumped and stored. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for the newborn as it has natural immune boosting properties. Lactation consultants are available to teach proper techniques for breastfeeding and handling pumps.