Everything you need to know about COVID-19 updates for pregnant women and the risks of coronavirus if you are pregnant.
Although news of a vaccine has been welcomed, there’s still great concern among the public about the threat of coronavirus and the risks of COVID-19 and pregnancy.
Despite new information constantly being published, as COVID-19 is a new virus, there’s still an element of the unknown when it comes the risks and effects of the illness, particularly when it comes to pregnant women.
Anxiety may already be heightened during pregnancy due to hormone changes and natural worries about bringing a new life into this world, it’s no wonder the continuing spread of the coronavirus is causing some distress among pregnant women.
However, while it’s important to acknowledge there may be misinformation and scaremongering in the news, it’s good be in-the-know about the COVID-19 updates for pregnant women and aware of as many of the facts as possible.
Here’s what the experts are saying about COVID-19 and pregnancy.
NHS state that pregnant women should be allowed to have their partner present ‘at all times during their maternity journey’.
Will I still be able to have my birth partner with me? How will Covid-19 affect my birth plan?
Although we have plunged into a third lockdown on England, it looks as though guidance on birth partners has not changed since the revisions made in December 2020 (which stated women can have one person with them ‘at all stages of her maternity journey’).
As it stands, the NHS website states ‘you’ll be able to have a birth partner during labour and the birth if they do not have symptoms of coronavirus. But there may be limits on how long they can stay after the birth.’
The updated guidelines come as a welcome development in light of the damaging effects that the COVID-19 restrictions on maternity wards have had on the physical and mental wellbeing of pregnant women and co-parents across England, which have meant that:
- pregnant women have attended scan appointments alone
- many fathers and co-parents have missed out on fundamental aspects of the parenting journey, such as attending antenatal scans and the birth of their child
- unexpected news and/or devastating news has been given to expecting women with no one by their side
- women have laboured alone on antenatal wards until they are deemed to be far enough advanced in labour that their birth partners are finally permitted to attend.
If your birth partner has symptoms, they may not be able to come with you.
Nicola Fahey, Solicitor and Legal Director at Lime Solicitors, says its best to prepare for all sorts of eventualities: “It would be a good idea to have a backup birthing partner on hand in the event that your first-choice birthing partner develops symptoms of coronavirus or cannot be present.
“Discussing your birthing plan with them and your views on the various treatment options will ensure that they are equipped to be useful during active labour.”
Read More: Preparing to Give Birth in Pandemic
What are the affects of the Covid-19 on pregnant women?
As this is a new virus, the effects of the COVID-19 illness on pregnancy are not conclusive. However, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and initial findings over the last few weeks, the coronavirus symptoms do not appear worse if you are pregnant.
The RCOG report explains, “Pregnant women do not appear to be more severely unwell if they develop coronavirus than the general population.”
Are pregnant women more at risk of contracting the coronavirus?
The RCOG maintain that, for the time being, “pregnant women do not appear to be more susceptible to the consequences of infection with COVID-19 than the general population.”
However, if you are pregnant you are more vulnerable to getting infections than a woman who is not pregnant. Therefore, if you have an underlying condition, such as asthma or diabetes, you may be more unwell if you have coronavirus.
Can babies contract coronavirus in the womb?
Initial research also suggests that coronavirus cannot be contracted in the womb. UK-based online doctor at Zava UK, Dr Babak Ashrafi, told Metro: “It’s more likely that the condition is picked up after birth from close contact with a carrier.”
He added: “While it’s unlikely that coronavirus can be passed on prenatally, pregnant women should still take steps to protect themselves from coronavirus, as high fevers during the first trimester of pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects.”
Despite the recent news that a newborn baby had tested positive for coronavirus, it’s suggested that this was not actually contracted in the womb, but after birth, owing to the fact the test was carried out 36 hours after delivery.
Can you breastfeed if you’re pregnant with coronavirus?
According to the RCOF, there is no evidence at the moment to suggest that coronavirus can be carried in breastmilk. Rather that the well-recognised benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks of transmission of coronavirus through breastmilk.
It is suggested, however, that a discussion about the risks and benefits of breastfeeding should take place between you and your family and your maternity team, to determine what is the past course of action to follow.
If you choose to breastfeed your baby, the RCOG have suggest the following guidelines:
- Wash your hands before touching your baby, breast pump or bottles
- Try and avoid coughing or sneezing on your baby while feeding at the breast;
- Consider wearing a face mask while breastfeeding, if available
- Follow recommendations for pump cleaning after each use
- Consider asking someone who is well to feed expressed breast milk to your baby.
What coronavirus guidelines should pregnant women follow?
Pregnant or not, we should all be sticking to the guidelines presented by the World Health Organisation and the NHS to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
At the time of writing, it’s been advised that everyone should avoid any non-essential travel, always wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoid social activities, self-isolate and work from home where possible.
The NHS states that this is particular important for people aged 70 and over, those who have a long-term health condition or a weakened immune system and pregnant women.,
- have a long-term condition
- are pregnant
- have a weakened immune system
With the NHS working on all fronts to deal with cases of Covid-19, it’s being advised that people with any suspected symptoms, even the most mild, should immediately self-isolate rather than visiting a GP or health service. This is also advised for those who have come into contact with confirmed or suspected cases.
Read the full NHS guidelines here.
Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and the Covid-19 Vaccine
The MHRA and Public Health England’s latest advice states:
- if you are pregnant you should not be vaccinated – you can be vaccinated after your pregnancy is over
- if you think you may be pregnant you should delay vaccination until you are sure you are not
- if you are planning to get pregnant in the next 3 months, you should delay your vaccination
- if you know you are not pregnant you can start the two-dose course now and you should avoid getting pregnant until at least 2 months after the second dose
- if you have had the first dose and then become pregnant you should delay the second dose until after the pregnancy is over
Covid-19 and Antenatal Classes
While pregnant women are advised to limit their social contact, the Royal College of Midwives still maintains that antenatal checkups are “essential to ensure the wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies”.
“We would urge all pregnant women who are well to attend their care as normal. If you are pregnant and have symptoms of possible coronavirus infection, you should call to defer routine visits until after the isolation period is over,” advises Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives.
The RCOG have also published the following practical advice:
- If you have a routine scan, appointment or visit due in the coming days, please contact your maternity unit for advice and a plan. You will still need to attend but the appointment may change due to staffing requirements.
- Some appointments may be conducted on the telephone or virtually, using videocalling, provided there is a reasonable expectation that observations, such as blood pressure or other tests are not needed.
- The recommendation that your bump will be measured from around 26 weeks of pregnancy should be observed by your maternity team unless you are in the recommended 14 day self isolation period.
- If you are between appointments, please wait to hear from your maternity team.
- If you are attending more regularly in pregnancy, then your maternity team will be in touch with plans.
- If you miss an appointment and haven’t heard from your maternity team, please contact them to rearrange the appointment.
Additionally, you may face restrictions on visitors to your local maternity units or hospitals. This may mean that your partners are not able to attend the routine antenatal appointments, or stay with women on antenatal or postnatal wards. However, this should not impact on your birth partner’s presence during your labour and the birth, unless they are unwell.
It’s worth noting a number of private midwifes and antenatal classes are now running digitally. For example, Louise aka The Honest Midwife and founder of Let’s Talk Birth and Baby is offering free online midwife led antenatal courses.
What are the risks of COVID-19 in the postnatal period? And what about for newborns?
“Government advice can change daily, but currently social distancing is recommended for everyone,” says registered midwife and co-founder of My Expert Midwife, Lesley Gilchrist.
“Limiting visitors when your baby has just been born will be tough, but it is essential to help in the national effort to control the spread of this virus. If you or your baby have underlying health conditions, discuss these with your doctor and midwife to ensure you receive the latest advice on how to care for yourself and your newborn.
“There is not much information available regarding how newborn babies are affected by COVID-19. We do know that young children seem to be less affected by the virus than older people or adults with underlying health conditions. There have now been two babies born in the UK that have tested positive for coronavirus but there is currently no information on how the virus has affected their health.
“Breastmilk provides the best protection for your baby, passing over antibodies and improving their general immunity. Coronavirus has not been found to be present in breastmilk, therefore it is unlikely that it could be passed to your baby this way.
“However, if you are symptomatic or have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the advice is to use a face mask when breastfeeding to prevent the spread of the virus via infective airborne droplets during this when there is close contact of mother and baby. You could also consider expressing your breastmilk if you are symptomatic or have a diagnosis of COVID-19 and have a person who is well feed this to your baby.”
A note on home births
“If you have chosen to give birth at home or in a midwife-led unit that is not co-located with an obstetric unit, it is worth noting that these services rely on the availability of ambulance services to allow for rapid transfer to hospital, and the right number of staff to keep you safe,” the RCOG explains. “If these are not in place, it is possible that your Trust or Board may not be able to provide these services.”
Lesley Gilchrist, a registered midwife and co-founder of My Expert Midwife, adds, “It is also possible that certain options such as homebirth may be unavailable, as midwives cover shortages in the hospital. It could also mean that elective caesarean sections may be moved to different dates if there are staff shortages or other emergencies which need prioritising.”
For more information on Covid-19 and pregnancy, read the full Q&A with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists here.
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