Pregnant women have enough to worry about; avoiding undercooked meat, unpasteurised cheese, whether their babies are growing happily and healthily… now the coronavirus.
Since the first outbreak in China, the information available to pregnant women on how the virus affects unborn babies or whether mams-to-be are more susceptible to catching it in the first place, has been extremely limited. So it’s been a particularly worrisome time for women carrying babies. Should you work from home? Should you avoid crowds?
Louise Broadbridge, midwife and expert speaker at The Baby Show, says: “Growing a baby can bring about many anxieties, and now we are suddenly in the midst of a worldwide health crisis, it is understandable that pregnant women and their families are especially concerned at what impact the coronavirus may have on them and their babies.”
Low key worried about this Coronavirus going around. What a time to be pregnant.— lonelypregoguy (@TimB46296553) February 27, 2020
Now the UK's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have released national guidance on managing Covid-19 in pregnancy. It’s worth noting, however, that evidence is still limited because the virus is so new, and most pregnant women who have contracted it won’t have given birth yet. There are no reported deaths of pregnant women from coronavirus.
Are pregnant women more likely to catch coronavirus?
The new advice states that pregnant women “do not appear” to be more susceptible to the consequences of coronavirus than the general population.
“In addition, is it expected that should you become infected, only mild symptoms are likely,” says Broadbridge.
However, pregnant women are more vulnerable to getting infections than women who aren’t pregnant, so taking precautions is as important as ever. The RCOG say if you’re pregnant and have an underlying heart or lung condition like asthma, you may be more unwell with the coronavirus.
My daughter is a teacher and now pregnant with my first grandchild, you know where this is going. Yes I'm worried about her and the baby during this coronavirus epidemic.#coronavirus— Ranger Lora (@Rangerlora) February 29, 2020
Can the virus be passed on to an unborn baby?
The RCOG say there is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of miscarriage and no evidence that the virus can be passed on to your developing baby. And it’s “considered unlikely” that having the virus will cause abnormalities in your baby.
“Over the coming weeks and months, it is likely pregnant women in the UK will test positive for coronavirus,” says Dr Edward Morris, president of the UK's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.”While the data is currently limited, it is reassuring that there is no evidence that the virus can pass to a baby during pregnancy.”
For a recent study, published in The Lancet, researchers followed nine pregnant women in Wuhan, China, who had tested positive for the virus, and at the time of birth, all the babies were healthy.
What should you do if you have symptoms?
If you have symptoms (a cough, a high temperature or shortness of breath), call 112 and tell them you’re pregnant. You should also call if you’ve been to a country with a high risk, or been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus. Next, contact your maternity unit and tell them the advice given by the 112 service.
You may be asked to self-isolate for 14 days and diagnostic swabs will be arranged (either at a hospital or sent to your home). If you test positive and have mild symptoms, you’ll probably be able to recover at home. Pregnant women with more severe symptoms may be treated in hospital.
“If you are asked to self-isolate, you may worry about your scheduled antenatal appointments. You can contact your midwife, who may advise delaying these appointments,” says Broadbridge.
Pregnant women aren’t advised to go to A&E unless in urgent need of medical care.
What about labour?
Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives in the UK, says: “As a precaution, pregnant women with suspected or confirmed coronavirus when they go into labour, are advised to attend an obstetric unit for birth, but there is currently no evidence to suggest women cannot birth vaginally or they would be safer having a caesarean birth, so their birth plan should be followed as closely as possible.”
If you do have the coronavirus going into labour, you will be asked to continue self-isolation in the early stages of labour (if your symptoms are mild), then take private transport to hospital, where you will be met at the entrance and given a surgical face mask until being isolated in a suitable room.
The current advice is not to separate mother and baby after birth.
“The impact of this separation, even as a precaution, can be significant on both the baby and the mother,” says professor Russell Viner, president of The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. “There is also limited evidence about the transmission of coronavirus through breast milk – and based on what we know now, we feel the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks.”
The best advice right now is to take precautions by regularly washing your hands for 20 seconds, particularly before and after preparing food, using a hand sanitiser, and avoiding touching your face.
Be wary of unsubstantiated advice, too. “Seek trusted sources of information, says Broadbridge. “NHS online and The World Health Organisation are likely the best places to read about the virus and to understand how to manage.”