Being pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic brings new and unexpected concerns for the health of expectant moms and their babies. As research and experience add to the knowledge about COVID-19 and pregnancy, physicians and patients can use that information to better protect themselves.
Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released information showing that pregnant women are at higher risk for complications from COVID-19 infection. COVID-19-positive pregnant women who are symptomatic are two to four times more likely than nonpregnant women of similar age to develop severe illness. These women are more likely to require ICU admission, Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) treatment, mechanical ventilation and have a significantly higher risk (70%) of death than nonpregnant women.
Similar to the disparities seen in the general population, symptomatic Black and Hispanic women are at higher risk for illness with worse outcomes.
While the absolute numbers of pregnant women who will develop severe illness or death are still small, data from the CDC is concerning as the number of cases grows. This is particularly important in L.A. County, where the number of cases has exceeded the next closest county by 400%.
With that in mind, here are four COVID-19 curbing actions for pregnant women to consider:
1. Do not skip prenatal care visits.
During pregnancy, regular checkups are very important. Consistent care can help prevent or identify problems early. In general, checkups occur once each month during weeks four through 28, twice a month for weeks 28 through 36 and weekly for weeks 36 until birth. Women with high-risk pregnancies may need to see their doctors more often. Your provider’s office and the hospital have protocols in place to limit exposure and maintain a safe environment for in-person visits. Telehealth and telephone appointments may also be used to keep you connected with your provider.
2. Avoid social gatherings and interactions with people who may be ill.
Pregnancy can and should be a time of joy. However, the present circumstances call for additional precautions and distancing, including from family and friends who normally would want to help, celebrate or visit expecting women in person. The CDC calls for everyone to wear a mask in public settings, especially when other social distancing measures are not possible. Stay at least 6 feet away from others who are not part of a household. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
3. Get the influenza vaccine.
Studies suggest that individuals infected with both the flu and COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to die as those infected with COVID-19 alone. Pregnant and postpartum women are at higher risk for severe complications from the flu and COVID-19 than the general population. The flu vaccine is the single most important way to protect against influenza infection. The vaccine is safe for the fetus and can be given during any trimester. There is no evidence that vaccine or the preservatives in the vaccine are associated with abnormalities or autism, but there is plenty of evidence of the vaccine’s effectiveness in saving lives. The injectable flu vaccine does not contain live virus, so while some people may develop mild flu-like symptoms after getting the vaccine, the vaccine itself does not cause the flu. The flu vaccine also helps newborns because the antibodies in a mother’s body are passed on, providing valuable protection, particularly when they are born during flu season.
4. Follow medical advice about the COVID-19 vaccine when one is available.
Most public health experts agree the best hope for ending the pandemic is a vaccine. Researchers from around the world are racing to create one. The FDA ensures that all vaccines are as safe as possible. The CDC has warned there may be a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines before the end of 2020, but the supply will continually increase in the weeks and months that follow. If there is limited supply, some vulnerable population groups (elderly, etc.) may be recommended to get a COVID-19 vaccine first. Pregnant women should consult with their obstetrician and healthcare provider once a vaccine is available and follow medical guidelines.
The goal of every pregnancy is a healthy mother and baby. By partnering with your provider and following public health guidelines, families can ensure that they are doing their part to have a healthy delivery and postpartum experience.
Chasity Jennings-Nunez, M.D., works for Ob Hospitalist Group as site director for obstetrics at Adventist Health Glendale.