What precautions should pregnant women take?
Pregnant women should take routine preventative actions to avoid infection with coronavirus disease, United Nations Population Fund announced in a statement. These measures include diligent hand-washing with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding close contact with people exhibiting symptoms of infection, covering sneezes and coughs, regularly wiping down surfaces with soap and water or alcohol-based cleaners (both of which can help kill viruses), and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs.
You can also help reduce your risk by maintaining a generally healthy lifestyle, such as eating well, working out, and getting enough sleep, according to Rahul Gupta, chief medical and health officer at the maternal and infant advocacy group March of Dimes.
Little is currently known about the vulnerability of pregnant women to coronavirus. In general, pregnancy-related physical changes may increase some pregnant women’s susceptibility to viral respiratory infections, and pregnant women with respiratory illnesses should be treated as an “utmost priority.”
What’s happened to the pregnant people who have been infected with the new coronavirus?
There have been at least 21 detailed cases reported of pregnant women in China getting infected.
According to a Lancet study published last month, of the nine pregnant women reportedly admitted to the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in China in late January, seven had a fever, four had a cough, three had muscle pain, two had a sore throat, and two reported general discomfort.
“None of the patients developed severe COVID-19 pneumonia or died, as of Feb 4, 2020,” say the study authors. Four of the nine women gave birth early, although beyond the 36-week mark. It’s unknown if this was due to the illness or not. The babies were born relatively healthy.
An additional three pregnant women, diagnosed with the disease in early February, gave birth at the Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, according to a working paper published on Feb. 25. Two of the women had a fever, and one had a cough; none of them experienced the most severe symptoms during the study period. All three babies were born with no major complications.
A third study in the journal Translational Pediatrics looked at five Chinese hospitals where nine infected pregnant women gave birth to 10 babies. The most common symptoms in the women were coughing and a fever. While four of the babies were delivered full-term, six were premature, and some experienced shortness of breath or fever. By the end of the study, five babies had been discharged, four remained at the hospital in stable condition, and one died after experiencing organ failure.
Are babies more prone to getting the disease?
Again, there is not enough evidence to say conclusively — but, so far, it appears babies are not severely affected.
According to one study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that detailed infections in nine Chinese babies, all between 1 to 11 months old, none of the infants “required intensive care, mechanical ventilation or had any severe complications.” All nine infants had at least one known infected family member.
“The really good news is that infants do not appear to get severe disease, but there’s been really, really little data so far,” Roger Shapiro, an associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Medical School, told BuzzFeed News.
What should I do if I think I’m sick — or if my baby is sick?
You should immediately call your doctor. If you’re pregnant, even a mild fever can pose a risk to you or your unborn baby. Young babies are also considered vulnerable to disease.
If a doctor deems it appropriate, try to get tested for both the flu and COVID-19. Previously, coronavirus testing in the US was restricted to people who fit specific criteria, such as if they came from an area known to be experiencing an outbreak or were in close contact with a known sick person. But that’s about to change.
“Today we will issue new guidance from the CDC that will make it clear that any American can be tested, no restrictions, subject to doctor’s orders,” Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the nation’s coronavirus response, said Tuesday. But it’s still unclear what health departments have testing capabilities.
“If you have been exposed, make sure your provider is aware,” said Gupta. “It’s important to get diagnosed early and to be monitored.”
If I’m sick, can I still breastfeed my baby?
The conventional wisdom is that a sick parent should continue to breastfeed their young child, because their milk may contain antibodies and other vital nutrients. So far, the few studies that have analyzed breast milk have not discovered traces of the virus present.
“I think feeding breast milk to the child remains something that should continue to be done, especially in places where replacement feeding is not safe in much of the world,” said Harvard’s Shapiro. “We do not have any evidence right now that the virus is in breast milk.”
The trickier question is whether the parent should directly feed the baby, or pump and have an uninfected person use a bottle. If a mom does continue to keep breastfeeding directly, she should wear a mask, take precautions to not cough or sneeze on the baby, and wash hands before and after feeding, according to the CDC.