Becoming a parent is one of the most wonderful and fulfilling experiences that anyone can have, but pregnancy can also be a stressful experience – and with the current focus on COVID-19, it’s only natural that expectant mothers would have questions about how the pandemic will affect them and their baby.
Here’s what you need to know about coronavirus during this special time in your life.
How will COVID-19 affect my health?
At present, according to the Queensland clinical guidelines for COVID-19 and pregnancy, there’s no reason to believe that pregnant women who contract COVID-19 will become any more (or less) sick than non-pregnant women who contract the virus.
Naturally, you should seek medical attention if you experience any signs of illness at any time during your pregnancy. But as is true for the rest of the population, most pregnant women who contract COVID-19 will either be asymptomatic (i.e. they will show no symptoms of the virus), or experience only mild or moderate cold/flu-like symptoms.
However, if you’re a smoker, have a heart or lung condition such as asthma, or have other long-term health conditions, you are more likely to become unwell. If you do have a pre-existing condition, it’s important that you tell your maternity health care provider about it.
Whether you’re pregnant or not, there are five simple ways you can reduce your chances of contracting the virus and help stop the spread:
- Clean your hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing
- Avoid touching your face, nose and mouth, and avoid shaking hands
- Stay home as much as possible, especially if you are sick
- Practice social distancing, which includes staying 1.5 metres away from others as much as you can
How will COVID-19 affect my baby’s health?
As COVID-19 is a new virus, our current understanding is limited to babies born to women who contracted the virus late in their pregnancy.
However, the risk of infection passing from a mother to her baby during pregnancy – known as ‘vertical transmission’ – is thought to be very low, and a recent study in The Lancet found that COVID-19 was not present in the amniotic fluid, cord blood, neonatal throat swabs and breastmilk of a group of infected mothers.
There have been reports of women with COVID-19 giving birth prematurely. In most cases, however, the premature births were not symptoms of the virus, but the results of decisions that were made for the babies to be born early because of their mothers’ poor health.
Around the world, rates of confirmed COVID-19 cases among children are much lower than they are among adults, and most children who are infected do not appear to develop a serious illness.
Is it safe for me to go to the hospital?
Queensland Health hospitals take great care to limit the spread of disease between patients. They will continue to provide high-quality maternity and newborn services throughout these challenging times.
Hospitals may, however, change the way that care is provided in order to reduce the chances of you, your baby or the staff looking after you contracting COVID-19.
These changes could include:
- Providing care in the community, rather than in hospital
- Offering care by video or phone
- Limiting the number of support people and visitors coming into the hospital
Contact your healthcare provider for more information on how these changes could affect you, and to discuss the options available to you.
Can I still come to antenatal appointments if I’m quarantined?
If you’re pregnant and in self-quarantine for a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection, you should contact your healthcare provider to tell them this. They can give you advice and help you to arrange an alternate method for attending your routine antenatal appointments.
What do I do if I go into labour while I’m quarantined?
Queensland Health hospitals are fully equipped to care for pregnant women with COVID-19. If you go into labour while in self-quarantine, call your hospital or healthcare provider immediately and tell them you have gone into labour while you have – or might have – a COVID-19 infection, and they will give you advice on your next steps.
Will having COVID-19 affect my birth plan?
COVID-19, by itself, will not affect how your baby is born. However, if you are booked for an induction of labour or caesarean section, and have contracted a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately to discuss your plan.
At present, there is no evidence that women with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cannot have an epidural or a spinal block.
If you have tested positive for or are suspected of having COVID-19, it is recommended (but not compulsory) that your baby be continuously monitored throughout your labour. This is simply so that any problems can be detected as early as possible, and is no different to the recommendation made in any other case of infection in pregnancy.
As previously stated, the number of support people you can have with you during your labour and birth may be limited. For this reason, you should choose one person who is able to stay with you the whole time.
Will having COVID-19 affect my contact with my baby?
Every effort will be made to keep you and your baby together, but if either of you are very unwell, this may not be possible. In that scenario, one option may be for your baby to go home with a well adult or relative while you remain at the hospital.
If you have, or are suspected of having, COVID-19, it’s very important that you do everything you can to prevent your baby contracting the virus. You should:
- Wash your hands before and after touching your baby, using soap and water for 20 seconds or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
- Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces you have touched
- Have a healthy adult assist you to care for your baby wherever possible
- Wear a mask while in close contact with the baby, including while breastfeeding
In the unlikely event that your baby does develop mild or moderate symptoms of COVID-19 in the weeks following their birth, contact your GP or hospital, and be sure to mention that you have (or have had) COVID-19.
There’s no denying that we are living in uncertain times – but, when it comes to your health and the health of your baby, you can be sure that you’re in good hands in Queensland.
As we continue to learn more about the virus, make sure you visit Queensland Health for the latest information relating to COVID-19 and pregnancy.
The information provided is general in nature only and does not constitute personal medical advice. For more information on pregnancy and COVID-19, contact your doctor or 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84), or refer to Queensland Health’s COVID-19 and Pregnancy fact sheet. For free, confidential and professional information and counselling relating to issues of conception, pregnancy, birthing and postnatal care, call the Pregnancy, Birth & Baby Helpline on 1800 882 436.