How can pregnant women protect themselves from COVID-19?

As the pandemic rages on, everyone has reason to be anxious and afraid¬—COVID-19 has claimed more than a million lives worldwide. If you are pregnant, it is natural to be afraid for the health of your baby. Since COVID-19 is a new disease, many risks and threats to particular demographic groups are still unknown. Some answers may still not be clear yet, but with the help of new research and studies, guidelines for pregnant women are getting clearer.

This blog answers some of the burning questions you might have as an expecting mother. These recommendations are based on the latest guidelines from international health organisations like the WHO, CDC, and ICMR - National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health. The links to these guidelines are available at the end of the blog for your reference.

Do pregnant women have a higher chance of getting the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Pregnant women are not particularly susceptible as a group to the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) any more than the general population is.

Pregnancy is known to alter the immune system and the way your body responds to viral infections. This may result in more severe symptoms of any infection in general and holds true for COVID-19 as well. For this reason, it is advisable that you be more cautious and reduce social contact during the pandemic.

Does COVID-19 pose an additional and higher risk to pregnant women?

Pregnant women who are older, obese, or suffering from pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease (congenital or acquired) are at a greater risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19. Statistically, when pregnant women acquire severe illnesses, they are more likely to require healthcare in intensive care units (ICU) than non-pregnant women of reproductive age.

With an altered immune response due to pregnancy, women may be affected more acutely by respiratory diseases. This is evidenced by the increased risk to pregnant women during the last trimester of pregnancy from other coronavirus infections like SARS and MERS. It is therefore strongly advised that you report any flu-like symptoms (cough, fever, or difficulty in breathing) to your doctor.

The coronavirus pandemic has also increased the risk of perinatal anxiety and instances of domestic violence. It is critical that support to the expecting mother and her mental health is strengthened and checked at every contact.

What effect does COVID-19 have on my pregnancy?

Currently, there is no data or reported cases that indicate an increased risk of miscarriage or pregnancy loss due to COVID-19. There is also no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 causes physical or functional abnormalities in the human embryo or foetus. Evidence regarding such instances will require long-term observations and data collection.

Overall, COVID-19 is not currently considered an indication for medical termination of pregnancy.

Can COVID-19 be passed from the mother to the foetus or a newborn baby?

Emerging evidence suggests that transmission of COVID-19 during the pregnancy or birth is probable. Newborn babies whose mothers have COVID-19 have been found to test positive for the novel coronavirus in some cases; however, this may be a correlation and not evidence of transmission during pregnancy or birth.

The proportion of pregnancies affected by COVID-19 is yet to be determined. At present, there are no recorded cases of COVID-19 being present in breast milk, amniotic fluids, or vaginal secretions.

A newborn baby can, however, catch the infection after birth. This is why doctors recommend temporarily separating the baby from mothers who test positive for COVID-19 at the time of delivery in addition to testing the baby.

What are the precautionary steps for pregnant women against COVID-19?

1. Wash your hands regularly. This is a message you may have heard over and over since the pandemic began, but it is sound advice. Hand hygiene really goes a long way in protecting you from COVID-19.

2. Adhere to social distancing norms. Avoid social contact outside of your family as much as possible. Maintain a distance of 6 feet or 2 meters from other people when you are in any public area.

3. Work from home if the option is available to you.

4. Avoid close contact with anyone showing flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, or fever. Symptoms of COVID-19 vary in intensity and it is very hard to differentiate non-Covid viral and bacterial respiratory diseases from COVID-19 without proper testing.

5. Get the recommended vaccines. The influenza/ flu vaccine will make you less susceptible to the flu, a respiratory illness that can cause complications during pregnancy. The whooping cough vaccine will protect your baby against whooping cough, which can be very dangerous in newborns.

6. Employ proper sneezing etiquette. Use a tissue or the inside of your arm when you sneeze or cough. Dispose of the tissue safely and wash your hands thoroughly.

7. Seek medical attention if you display any flu-like or respiratory symptoms. If you develop trouble breathing, fever, or a cough, talk to your doctor immediately. Your doctor will recommend you a COVID-19 test based on your medical history.

8. Seek virtual consultations with your gynaecologist instead of in-person prenatal visits. Minimizing your time in your doctor’s or the hospital’s waiting room is advisable. However, do not deny yourself any healthcare that you may need; necessary tests like blood tests, ultrasounds, and foetal tests will require you to make a visit in person.

9. Reduce everyday stress as much as possible. Do things that make you happy, calm, and put you at ease. Maintain social contact virtually with friends and your support network. Do Kegel and squat exercises as recommended by your doctor.

Is it safe to go to a hospital to deliver my baby?

Yes. It is safer to deliver in a hospital, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do not delay getting any emergency care because you are afraid of getting COVID-19; the benefits outweigh the risks. Planned deliveries in hospitals are safe—hospitals take necessary precautions and have systems in place to ensure minimal risk and exposure for the newborn and the mother. Most healthcare institutions segregate COVID-19 patients in isolation wards and buildings as a precaution as well.

If you have any more questions regarding your pregnancy, the risks, and a healthcare plan to manage an ongoing or upcoming pregnancy, book an appointment with our OB/ GYN specialists at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Sagar Hospitals. To learn more about preventable diseases and illnesses like COVID-19 call our experts at the Department of Preventive Healthcare at Sagar Hospitals.





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