Pregnancy has always been an experience that comes with natural concerns but the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to feel anxious, leaving many moms and dads worried about the safety of their unborn child.
Many have been asking the question, “How dangerous is COVID-19 for pregnant women and their babies?”
Dr Laura Riley, leading gynecologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and the Obstetrician-in-Chief at New York-Presbyterian, took up the task of explaining what is known about pregnant women and COVID-19 as well as how they can protect themselves.
The research on pregnancy and COVID-19 has not been conclusive. Data is spotty and little is known about how the virus affects mom and child thus far.
“One thing in medicine is that we like to study things and then we like to get answers, and then we like to operate based on those answers. I think that is what has been one of the biggest challenges, is that many people are saying I don’t know, I am not sure, I think this”, says Riley.
During an interview with NPR, Dr Riley shared some valuable advice on what moms and expecting parents can do during these uncertain times.
“So I would say the vast majority of the data suggests that pregnant woman can get sick with COVID-19 just like everybody else, whether being pregnant makes you more sick or not, I think the jury is still out on that one.”
One thing Dr Riley is concerned about, however, is that pregnant women with COVID-19 are generally more likely to be placed on a ventilator based on a small study done by the CDC.
“The other thing I am concerned about is women who have other conditions that we know don’t do well with COVID-19, like diabetes, lung disease. Whether or not you put that with pregnancy and if it could be worse, we still don’t know that,” adds Dr Riley.
Dr Riley mentioned that conditions among pregnant women often varied. Some patients she was treating were very sick and needed to be in ICU while others displayed very little symptoms and didn’t even know they had the virus.
She noted that in general, moms and babies have been doing well when it comes to the virus.
“We saw I would say about 200 to 300 babies born to COVID positive mothers and only one being positive. So what we can say about it is that at least for women who got it in the third trimester of pregnancy, we have not seen a lot of transmissions,” said Dr Riley.
Riley also stated that there is still a lot of mystery surrounding transmission for mothers who caught the virus earlier in their pregnancy, whether the chance of transmission is higher or not is uncertain as most mothers who have been confirmed to have it, have not yet given birth.
When asked what advice she would give pregnant women, Dr Riley said: “So I tell them that the protective equipment and all of the protection strategies really work. I tell pregnant women that when the opportunity is available to them they should get outside and, you know, not lose their minds.”
One of the most common questions Dr Riley is asked by patients is whether they should plan to have a baby during the pandemic.
Riley says she would not generally suggest patients put their life on hold as the pandemic could not be over for a very long time and the precautions we have in place now could continue even after a vaccine is developed.
She noted that it may also not be the best thing for mothers to wait as it could be best for them to have a baby now rather than later, when it comes to their physical or biological condition.
Dr Riley also asked that new parents or those wanting to become parents keep in mind that during the pandemic things will be different than before. When the baby is born, social distancing and keeping visitations over Zoom may need to become common place for a while. Parents will also need to keep hygiene habits in mind, such as cleaning surfaces frequently.
The virus has not been found in breastmilk, so it is safe for COVID-19 positive women to breastfeed although certain hygiene precautions should be followed, advises the National Department of Health.
The women that Riley worries about the most about are those that are working on the front line but do not have the protection or knowledge they need, especially those who do not have the luxury of deciding that their job is too high a risk to work. She urges the community to support each other and help ensure all women in need have the protection they need during the pandemic.