Whether you’re pregnant now or you were hoping to be in the next few months, this might feel like an overwhelming time, living through the current coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic.
Did you realize that more than 130 million women give birth around the world each year? Time magazine recently reported that fact in an article this week about COVID-19 and how it relates to pregnant women.
As if pregnancy, or the thought of family planning, wasn’t stressful enough: Now we have this pandemic to think about.
First things first, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting your information from a trustworthy source. (Hint: You’ve come to the right place!) But also, when it comes to organizations you’ll want to follow and trust, think of ones like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization -- not random blogs on the internet.
There’s so much to consider. If you’re set to deliver soon, who will you be able to bring to the hospital? What about visitor policies? Is your doula allowed?
For everyone else: Is the first trimester safe? What do you need to know to protect yourself?
Some of these questions and answers will vary by region -- and hospitals will have some slight variances, as well, like when it comes to policies on who’s allowed in, if you’re expecting to deliver in the next few weeks.
It is safe to say, all hospitals likely have more aggressive visitor policies in place at the moment.
We thought we’d ask an expert when it comes to five considerations you should keep in mind.
As a pregnant person, you’re in a special group -- not exactly immunocompromised, but likely at a higher risk and more susceptible to, or more severely affected by, infectious diseases.
“Pregnant women are considered to be a special population group due to their specific susceptibility to some infectious diseases because of the unique ‘immunological’ condition caused by pregnancy,” a National Institutes of Health website said.
Yes, pregnant women are generally more susceptible to viruses, for example, the flu. Their immunity is lowered, their lungs are more compressed and they need more oxygen in general, as this website puts it.
But here’s the good news, so far: Despite all that, people who are pregnant right now, even with the number of coronavirus cases spiking by the day, are NOT any more likely to:
- Deliver early (as in, go into pre-term labor)
- Or deliver a child with birth defects
And that’s according to Dr. Samuel Bauer, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Beaumont Health.
It’s true that there’s limited information and published literature about exactly how susceptible pregnant women are to COVID-19, and the severity of infection.
Not having a ton of information yet about this coronavirus -- it’s understandable why that might seem unsettling to some. The COVID-19 situation is changing week to week, and it remains very fluid, as doctors and officials continue to learn more.
Bauer said if you’re pregnant and you’re exposed to the virus, you are more likely to get it than someone who isn’t pregnant, because you’re in that special pregnant population we just discussed that’s at a higher risk for picking up infectious disease.
And you’re at a greater risk for more complications.
“You can extrapolate that from what we’ve seen with influenza, MERS (and) SARS,” Bauer said.
Quick refresher: MERS and SARS were considered coronaviruses, as well. “Coronavirus” is an umbrella term for a type of common virus that can infect your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. The one now considered a global pandemic is specifically called COVID-19.
But again, before you panic about being more susceptible or being at a higher risk of complications, you should take comfort in the same bottom line as consideration No. 1: Doctors don’t believe that being exposed to this coronavirus will lead to an increased risk of early pregnancy loss, make you go into pre-term labor or cause birth defects, Bauer said.
Those are all great pieces of news.
Your IVF was likely impacted.
If you are, or were, in the process of fertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, most, if not all, clinics are now on hold.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine put a halt on IVF, but that was mainly because of a resource issue, Bauer said -- not because doctors think there’s a risk to mothers or unborn babies.
Now is not a time to distrust the experts.
If you’re pregnant or had been trying for a baby, stay in even better contact with your doctor or health care provider. Sure, that might mean teledoc visits or keeping in touch over email, but that still counts.
Trust your providers and the hospitals to do their jobs.
When asked about whether some patients have been inquiring about home births lately, Bauer said in a phone interview Friday that he had gotten a few questions about whether that was a safer option.
It’s always been a hot topic, he added.
“The way that I've responded is (by saying) that, based on the limited information that we have right now, pregnant women may be at a higher risk for the illness compared to the general population, but it's more important than ever to maintain a solid relationship with your health care provider during these times -- and throughout your pregnancy and after delivery,” Bauer said.
Although home birth is associated with fewer medical interventions, you may be at an increased risk for other things, including perinatal death and complications after birth, Bauer said.
He doesn’t recommend exploring the option solely based on our current circumstances.
Medical teams are ready to provide a safe experience for (their) patients, Bauer added.
“We've been through this before with SARS, MERS (and illnesses like) H1N1,” the doctor said. “Of course, this current coronavirus situation is different, but this isn’t the first illness doctors have seen, and needed to make adjustments for. This is what maternal fetal medicine does.”
What if you’ve been thinking about having a baby?
Should you wait, perhaps, to see how this virus unfolds?
“There are so many unknowns, but there are so many things that go into family planning -- economic things, for example,” Bauer said.
Health-wise, there’s no reason why you shouldn't, based on the virus itself.
People are on edge and looking for information, which is natural considering this is a new situation for most of us: self-quarantining and being away from work and now social distancing.
The best things you can do for yourself are the same measures you’re hearing and seeing on social media: Wash your hands with soap and water, often and thoroughly. Use hand-sanitizer if soap isn’t available at the moment. Don’t touch your face. Cough into your elbow. Avoid people who are sick. Don’t travel unnecessarily. And continue distancing. You want to avoid being exposed.
Doctors do expect to continue learning more, as mentioned.
“Now that we’re able to do some testing, the amount of testing we can do and availability of swabs will help to determine how accurate the spread is,” Bauer said. “Will we be more like South Korea, China or Italy?”
And when it comes down to the number of patients exposed and mortality numbers -- a lot will depend on how much we can protect ourselves: how well we’re sheltering at home, and our protective equipment.
“We’re in this for a while -- we’re talking weeks and months, not days,” Bauer said.