Pregnancy is a time of anticipation and change, and some degree of anxiety is natural and expected. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 however has added an element of uncertainty and concern to this experience, especially with regard to the potential effects of the virus on how expectant women and their babies can stay healthy.
How does the virus spread?
The virus spreads primarily from person to person, through respiratory droplets emitted through the air when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. It may also spread when someone touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, then touches their nose, mouth or eyes. It’s also possible that someone may be infected but not have any symptoms and spread the virus.
What do we know about risk to expectant mothers and their infants?
According to the latest information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is not enough data yet to know if pregnant women are at greater risk for contracting COVID-19, as compared to the general population. It also remains unclear whether they are more likely to become symptomatic if they do become infected.
To date, there is no definitive evidence that a woman infected with the virus can pass it on to her baby, either in utero or during delivery. While there have been a small number of reports citing complications with pregnancy and delivery, in these cases – for example preterm birth – it is uncertain if the outcomes were related to COVID-19. In a limited number of case studies of infants born to mothers with COVID-19, none of the infants tested positive for the virus. The virus has also yet to be found in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk.
As pregnant women experience changes in their bodies that may make them more susceptible to certain infections, it is recommended that they engage in protective actions to minimize their risk of exposure.
The CDC’s information page for pregnant and postpartum women has the most up-to-date information about risk.
What can I do to protect myself from getting the virus?
Will my prenatal visits be cancelled? How safe is the medical system for my visits / delivery?
Prenatal visits are routine care critical for ensuring maternal and fetal health. While many elective medical procedures and visits have been rescheduled to a later date, prenatal care continues. Some obstetricians may increase the interval between visits or may encourage telehealth visits. Expectant mothers should discuss with their doctor any concerns about their prenatal care.
Medical care systems take many precautions to minimize the risk of exposure to their patients. They follow strict rules to make sure that anyone who needs to be evaluated for COVID-19 is isolated from other patients. We recommend you talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about the precautions your medical system is taking with regard to the risk of exposure during your routine visits or during your hospital stay. You may also have questions about the number of people you can have with you in the delivery room, which your doctor can address.
What can I do if I feel anxious or overwhelmed?
If you are finding yourself overwhelmed by concerns related to COVID-19, and especially if these thoughts and feelings are interfering with your ability to complete daily tasks, sleep well, or engage in self-care activities, reach out to a mental health professional for support.
For tips on coping with anxiety while expecting during COVID-19, read Part 2 to this blog post.
Catherine Lawlor, Psy.D., and Jamie Kent, Ph.D.
Women’s Mental Health Team at Peninsula Behavioral Health