With the coronavirus spreading around the world and altering daily life as we know it, a question that has arisen within many women is whether they should delay getting pregnant due to covid-19.
In late March 2020 many fertility clinics around Australia were forced to delay treatments and temporarily shut their doors to help do their part in flattening the curve. This has forced many women to delay their attempts at falling pregnant but also started the question of is it safe to naturally fall pregnant during this pandemic? Whilst many have joked about a “coronavirus baby-boom” due to couples being couped up together, women who can conceive on their own are questioning whether they should.
Covid-19 and pregnancy
Unfortunately, the answer to whether getting pregnant during covid-19 is safe isn’t a simple yes or no as there isn’t a lot of scientific data. With the spread of the virus only in its infancy we don’t have the studies or evidence needed to make a qualified answer to whether or not women should defer getting pregnant until all this quietens down. However, there are some small studies and expert opinions which we can take into consideration when looking at this issue.
In this article I want to go over everything we do and don’t know what it comes to falling pregnant during the coronavirus.
Are pregnant women at higher risk of coronavirus?
The short story is that we don’t actually know whether pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from covid-19 nor whether they might experience a more severe illness as a result.
What we do know is that pregnancy causes a lot of changes in the body and one of these changes is to the immune system. Some parts of your immune system are heightened while others are suppressed. Changes also occur to major organs such as your heart and lungs and when pregnant women get a respiratory infection like the flu they can be more likely to experience severe illness/symptoms.
Whilst we don’t know whether this makes you more susceptible to covid-19 it is important to know that these changes do occur.
A small study of nine pregnant women in Wuhan, china found that these women didn’t experience more severe pneumonia than non-pregnant patients. The World Health Organisation also released a report that showed the outcomes of 147 pregnant women diagnosed with covid-19. This report determined that pregnant women were not more likely than non-pregnant women to develop life threatening illness.
Most current data surrounding pregnancy and covid-19 is from women in their third trimester but what experts find hopeful is the lack of cases of early pregnant patients suffering with covid-19.
As this has been going on for months now and there is over 1 million people infected you would assume there is a portion of women in their first and second trimester who have been infected. The fact that we aren’t hearing about severe symptoms or complications in this group of women is promising.
Can coronavirus impact pregnancy or fetal health?
Before we look into the impact on fetal and mother health it is important to note that these are potential risks not definite risks.
As we saw earlier in the study done in Wuhan of the 9 pregnant women, all gave birth to healthy babies. In fact, the babies were tested after birth and no trace of the virus was found in the amniotic fluid, cord blood or breast milk.
Due to the lack of data surrounding covid-19 and infants one way we can look at potential effects is by looking at other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS. When we look at these viruses and their relationship to pregnancy the research shows that these can lead to miscarriage and premature delivery.
While we haven’t got the same data for this for covid-19 it is not a statistic that should be ignored. A large potential risk for fetal health is high fever which covid-19 causes. High fever can cause potential issues to the mother but may also be associated with birth defects.
Whilst this all sounds really scary and very upsetting you must remember that this is only a potential risk and we do not know the definite outcomes from contracting covid-19 whilst pregnant.
It is also important to remember that there are many other tings out there that can cause in utero effects to your baby such as pesticides, herbicides, other chemicals and heavy metals that we are exposed to all the time. If you are worried about the effects of a virus on your pregnant system it may also be a good time to look into other things that may cause problems to your baby. Things that you can control and can do something about.
Be empowered to make changes that you can!
Can a pregnant woman pass coronavirus on to their baby?
Whilst the study in Wuhan showed that no virus was found in the amniotic fluid, cord blood or breast milk we can’t rule out vertical (mother to baby in utero) transmission that quickly!
There have been some cases where babies tested positive to covid-19 soon after birth. A study done on 33 infants born to mothers with covid-19 showed 3 tested positive to the infection. In these cases, the doctors concluded that the exact method of spread wasn’t clear but also that they couldn’t rule out transmission during pregnancy.
The good news is that in all the studies done so far on newborns with covid-19 they have all passed the virus quickly and deaths are extremely rare!
How will the quality of prenatal care differ during the coronavirus outbreak?
This will depend on where abouts you live but also the type of care you have opted for. Many hospitals are restricting visitors such as extra relatives and doulas, limiting people on the birth team and having them all wear full protective gear and even reports of not allowing the partner in the delivery room. Many prenatal appointments may even be moved to online. The care you receive will look very different from that of 6 months ago. However, the quality of your care should still be of your doctors and birth team’s upmost importance and you should receive the same quality of care.
This may be a good time for pregnant women to start looking into their schedule of care and asking the questions of is it really necessary. Do you need all those ultrasounds and blood tests? Do you need to visit the hospital every 3-4 weeks? While I’m not saying you shouldn’t all I am saying is maybe do some extra reading and research. The less you go out the less likely you will contract the virus.
Home birth vs Hospital care during coronavirus
If you have a low risk pregnancy you may even consider having a home birth instead of a hospital birth. Now I am a huge fan of home births during non-pandemic times but I think the option of a home birth is even more suitable in times where hospitals are full of infectious people. I understand that home births aren’t for everyone and having your birth in a hospital may feel more right for you and that is totally ok! I encourage you to look into your birth hospital of choice and its procedures and policies surrounding coronavirus so that you understand what is allowed to happen during your time there – i.e. not allowing visitors.
If you are considering a home birth then make sure you do your research around who you choose as your birth team and try and meet/talk to them a few times before you decided who you want. The more comfortable you are with them the more at ease you will be with having your birth at home. There are some incredible midwifes out there who are more than capable of birthing your baby in the comfort of your own home!
So should I stop trying to fall pregnant during the corona virus pandemic?
The simplest answer is it is up to you! Deciding if and when to get pregnant is a very personal choice for every couple and there are many factors to consider now more than ever.
From a medical perspective the data that we have at the moment shows that there is a high likelihood that if you do get pregnant or are already pregnant than you and your baby will be just fine! Remember though this data is limited.
There are also non-health related factors that you should be considering at this point in time. The financial and economical implications the coronavirus is having is something this generation have never seen before and unfortunately many people have already lost their jobs. If this is you or there is potential for your income to decrease over the next few months then you need to ask yourself whether having a baby now is a great idea. You may also want to consider that you may have less access to prenatal care and options.
A big thing to consider is the birth itself. We have no idea how long this is going to go on for and if you picture a birth where you have a big support team and all you family visiting you and your new one in hospital this may not be able to be your reality.
It is also important to consider the self-isolation and social distancing laws. Having a newborn is hard work and many women lean on their support network for help during this time.
If social distancing laws are still in place you may be looking at going through the newborn stage all on your own – especially if your partner is working. Add on top of that the added stress and anxiety on what already is a stressed out human and you have another factor to think about.
In saying this though if we look to where this all started, Wuhan china, they are starting to decrease their isolation laws and things are starting to re-open, 2 months after the city went into lockdown. That is a positive statistic to look at seeing that here in Australia we took action earlier then china did.
You as a woman need to look at why it’s important for you to get pregnant now and if the reasons are strong and you know in your heart you can handle it then that is your choice. If you choose to wait a couple of months that is also your choice.
Whatever you choose be strong in your decision and do what you can to nurture and support the baby growing inside you as well as your own health.