COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, has had a tremendous effect on the world, and though it feels like everything has stopped, our lives must still go on. With so much uncertainty right now, many pregnant women have expressed concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on both pregnancy and newborns. We checked in with Amy Howes, a dear friend and an accomplished nurse and midwife, to find out how families can make informed decisions around pregnancy and birth during the pandemic. Here are six key questions she answered:
Firstly, what is COVID-19?
It is a respiratory illness and type of virus called SARS-CoV-2 which spreads from person to person via droplets. Symptoms include coughing, fever, fatigue, sore throat, and aching muscles. It can become severe causing viral pneumonia. Four out of five people will have a mild illness and recover without treatment. The elderly and those with underlying medical conditions have an increased risk of severe illness.
Cases in children are rare. The coronavirus spreads through droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets generally do not travel more than a few feet, and they fall to the ground (or onto surfaces) in a few seconds — therefore social and physical distancing is effective in preventing the spread.
Should I be worried about falling pregnant during the coronavirus outbreak?
It’s not a simple yes or no question. But rest assured that if you do get pregnant, obstetrical care will remain a priority. There are factors to look at, such as the care for pregnant women would be different in the era of coronavirus. You would not be allowed to receive visitors, and you may feel disconnected from the outside world. The stress and psychological factors surrounding the virus: would you be OK if your birth plan did not go as expected? Also, look at the financial implications of caring for a newborn and taking time off work when many families jobs are being affected.
All women need to consider their situations, but there is no right or wrong time during this pandemic. The coronavirus will not have an impact on your pregnancy.
Can COVID-19 be passed from mother to fetus or newborn?
It is possible, although exceptionally rare for pregnant mothers with the COVID-19 illness to pass the infection down to their babies. None of the infants, who have tested positive in studies, developed any serious symptoms like a fever or a cough, which are associated with COVID-19. It is important to breastfeed, as breastfeeding protects newborns from getting sick and helps protect them throughout their infancy and childhood.
Breastfeeding is particularly effective against infectious diseases because it strengthens the immune system by directly transferring antibodies from the mother. As with all confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, mothers with any symptoms who are breastfeeding or practicing skin-to-skin contact should take precautions by hand washing and wearing a mask.
Do I have a higher chance of contracting COVID-19 if I’m pregnant?
No, but it is important to take everyday precautions and maintain a safe distance between yourself and others. When going out, avoid unnecessary contact, non-essential travel, large crowds, and begin (if you have not already) self-isolating. Wash your hands frequently with hand-wash or sanitizer with an alcohol factor of 70% and above.
Can I still go to my antenatal appointments? Can I bring my partner?
Yes, it is important to go to your antenatal appointments, and it is not advised to stop going. Wear a mask when leaving your home and practice hand washing. Find out from your clinic or doctor if partners are allowed. Many hospitals and clinics are trying to “flatten the curve” and it is important not to take it personally if your significant other is not allowed. Fewer people means fewer infections.
Is it safe to deliver my baby at a hospital right now? Do you recommend home birth?
There are always risks involved when leaving your home and going to a health care facility, but if you practice safe hygiene, your risks are reduced. The staff should all be wearing masks and avoiding close contact. If delivering in a private hospital, you’ll likely not share a room, and everyone entering the hospital or clinic will be screened. If deemed high risk, they will not be allowed to enter your room or have contact with you. Visitors won’t be allowed, and you will be asked to stay in your room and not walk around unnecessarily.
Home births do not suit everyone as certain conditions such as Diabetes Type 1, pre-eclampsia, or premature labour are not suited for this. They may require extensive medical treatment. If you can have a home birth with a qualified and registered midwife, you are reducing your risk of contracting the virus. Furthermore, if you have researched your options, and home birth is right for you, do that. However, if you have planned for a hospital birth, continue that path, taking precautions.
Many government clinics and hospitals do not allow partners to accompany their partner, and both may feel scared, frustrated, or anxious and will consider a home birth. It’s also important to remember that home birth offers no pain relief or doctors, and expectant couples must have a high level of investment, preparation, and training to labour outside of a hospital setting.
Stay tuned for our interview with Amy Howes – coming May 17th.