And every day I look at my growing belly and wonder if we will truly be okay when this is all said and done. With an estimated due date of April 8, I’m set to deliver right in the middle of this pandemic. Fortunately, there are a few things that are keeping my growing sense of panic at bay.
Pregnancy does not seem to be a major risk factor. Experts already know that people with preexisting conditions such as asthma or diabetes are at a higher risk of contracting and suffering more severe symptoms from covid-19, but pregnant women do not seem to fall into this higher risk group. Sharyn N. Lewin, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist, says that while pregnancy is considered an immunocompromised state, it is not as severe of a risk as it is for patients with greater risk factors, such as those who are undergoing chemotherapy.
“Pregnant women should engage in the usual preventive actions to avoid infection, like washing hands often and avoiding people who are sick as well as crowds,” Lewin says. Avoiding crowds should be easy for those of us living in areas with lockdown or quarantine orders in effect, such as my state of Pennsylvania, which has shut down all but essential services.
The delivery room will look different, but not scary. One of my fondest memories from giving birth to my other two children was being able to have my mom by my side. She was a reassuring presence for both me and my husband, and I’ll never forget the way her face lit up when she saw her granddaughters for the first time. This time, the delivery room will be different. With protocol changes at hospitals across the country, many laboring mothers will no longer have the option of having more than one support person with them. The hospital where I’m delivering will be reinstating the restrictions they used during the H1N1 outbreak of 2009, limiting visitors to the hospital and how many support people are allowed in the delivery room. Lewin says this is a smart move. She suggests, where it is not already mandated, that moms limit their labor support team to just one person. Then, once mom and baby are safely through labor and delivery, she says it is important to self-isolate.
Labor and delivery should still be well-staffed. One of my nightmare scenarios has been the idea that I will have to give birth on a gurney in the hallway, or alone in my room, because support staff will all be redirected to the emergency room or ICU to help with other cases. Lewin says that’s unlikely. Hospitals “will triage staff to the most urgent areas, including labor and delivery, to help care for pregnant women,” she says.
As for high-risk pregnancies, she says they are likely to be just as well tended to as they were before. “At this time, hospitals are well-staffed to help both laboring patients as well as those in the ER and ICU.”
Risk to newborns remains low, but not zero. The best news is that as of today, there are still no reported cases of vertical transmission, or pregnant women passing covid-19 onto their fetuses. “Thankfully, in the reports we have of infected pregnant women, the virus was not detected in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk,” says physician Caesar Djavaherian, the co-founder and medical director of Carbon Health. While this news is good for both worried parents and their newborns, experts aren’t sure yet why this is the case, and it’s still very early in the study of this disease, so things could change.
That doesn’t mean that newborns cannot catch the virus. “So far, based on multiple case reports, the data seems to support that newborns cannot catch coronavirus in utero, though they can catch it immediately after birth,” he says. “It is very challenging, but new parents who are sick will need to be very careful when they are with their newborns.” Djavaherian says that this means infected parents should abstain from kissing their babies, and that they should be extremely mindful about washing their hands, being masked and wearing clean clothes when engaging with their newborns.
What expectant parents can do right now. If you are worried about the health and well-being of you and your unborn baby, try to hold on to some optimism. Though it’s definitely a scary time, and a lot of the news out there is either dire or inconclusive, it seems as though the experts still agree, at least for now, that covid-19 presents no greater risk to expectant moms and their babies than the flu does.
So take an extra deep breath and try to be kind to yourself. Follow the guidelines that experts have been giving around maintaining good “hand hygiene,” and avoiding touching your mouth, nose and eyes after touching surfaces. In addition to washing hands and avoiding sick people and crowds, Lewin says, “social distancing is very important.”
In short, keep your hands off your face and put them on your growing belly, where they belong. “Get a lot of rest. Take vitamins. Eat a healthy diet and exercise,” Lewin says. While that may sound like “business as usual” advice, I’m taking comfort in the fact that nobody has issued any extra or extreme precautions for pregnant moms yet, and hopefully other expectant mothers will, as well.
Lauren Wellbank is a freelance writer living in Allentown, Pa. Find her on Twitter @LaurenWellbank.