With COVID-19 recently being declared a global pandemic, borders across countries closing up and international travel bans being implemented, the situation seems dire due to this infection that has taken the world by storm. If you are pregnant and have been googling ‘Coronavirus symptoms’ furiously, here is a list of a few pregnancy FAQs that you might find useful:
Coronavirus symptoms during pregnancy
Am I at more of a risk to get infected with COVID-19 if I am pregnant?
Pregnant women, in general, are more susceptible to contracting viral respiratory infections such as the flu. While it is not known for certain if pregnant women are at more of a risk in contracting COVID-19 specifically, their immune systems are already weakened as their bodies are working in full gear to facilitate the growth of a baby.
Although not specifically vulnerable to COVID-19, pregnant women are susceptible to respiratory illnesses because of their weakened immune systems. Photo: iStock
“We do not currently know if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public nor whether they are more likely to have serious illness as a result,” notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States.
However, in analysing the statistics that have been released out of China so far, the group at most risk of contracting COVID-19, seems to the elderly, especially men, and people with underlying diseases, such as heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, as well as those who have been in close contact with infected persons.
What are my chances if I test positive for coronavirus symptoms?
Of 147 pregnant women infected with COVID-19, only 8% had serious impacts with 1% being reported to have been in critical condition, according to an investigation by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, the study is in its preliminary stages, and is based on only a handful of cases, and is thus difficult to draw conclusions from.
Additionally, there was another study published by medical journal The Lancet, which detailed nine pregnant women who had tested positive for coronavirus symptoms, at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in China.
Although four of the nine women had early births before they reached 36 weeks of pregnancy, it has not been concluded if the cause was due to the coronavirus infection. Furthermore, the babies were all born “relatively healthy.” and none of the patients developed severe COVID-19 pneumonia or succumbed to the illness.
Further independent smaller-scale studies conducted on pregnant women so far have detailed mainly healthy babies (even though some of them have been born pre-term), with only a few of them having required hospitalisation for a brief period for shortness of breath or fever.
However, one study reported an infant of a mother who was infected with COVID-19, who had died after experiencing organ failure. The study was published in the journal Translational Pediatrics.
The majority of the women studied across all investigations, did not present severe conditions, with cough and fever being the common coronavirus symptoms they suffered.
Coronavirus symptoms: Will my baby be more vulnerable to the disease?
A medical worker in a hazmat suit is looking after the baby, who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus. | Image source: Handout, Wuhan Children’s Hospital/Weibo
As is common with COVID-19 studies, there is not enough evidence to prove that babies are more vulnerable to contracting the disease than adults. In fact, the evidence that is presently available indicates that babies, on the other hand, are not severely affected.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at nine Chinese babies, between the ages of 1 to 11 months old, who had all been exposed to at least one infected family member. “None of the infants required intensive care, mechanical ventilation or had any severe complications.”
“The really good news is that infants do not appear to get severe disease, but there’s been really, really little data so far,” noted Roger Shapiro, an associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Medical School.
What should I do to avoid getting myself or my unborn baby sick?
- Avoid coming in contact with someone whom you know or suspect is infected
- Avoid crowds, public spaces and practise social distancing
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub, for a period of 20 seconds or more
- In the event of exposure to the outdoors, take off all “outdoor clothes” and have a shower or spot-clean exposed areas of the body thoroughly, as soon as you come indoors
- Keep your living spaces clean, and disinfect regularly touched objects such as doorknobs, remotes, tables, sinks, taps, non-fabric chairs and phones.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well, working out and getting enough sleep.
What do I do if I suspect I am infected?
Contact your family physician or nearest GP immediately, if you suspect you may be infected with COVID-19. It is advised to call up the hospital or your medical practitioner, prior to visiting their clinics in order to avoid unnecessary exposure.
Do not wait for the symptoms to progress to get help; even a mild fever can pose serious risks to the mother and the unborn baby. An early diagnosis can pave the way for the best and most effective course of treatment.
Let your doctor know if you have been in contact, or have been exposed to an infected person.
Can I still breastfeed my newborn if I am infected?
Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their baby even if infected with COVID-19, while taking necessary precautions. In the event of being too sick to breastfeed, you may express the milk via breastpumps. Photo: iStock
Breastmilk contains a myriad of defences and antibodies that an infant can benefit from. Based on breastmilk being a very insignificant route of transmission in other similar respiratory illnesses, and taking into account the benefits of breastfeeding, the UNICEF reported that mothers “can continue breastfeeding their children while applying all the necessary precautions” to avoid transmission of the illness.
Always wear a mask when you are in close contact with the infant – even during feeding – and wash your hands thoroughly before and after contact with the baby, and disinfect surfaces that have been exposed. It is ideal to swaddle the baby and change the wrap after every feed, if possible.
If you are too sick to directly breastfeed the infant, however, you may express milk, while following the same infection prevention methods and have someone feed your infant using a clean cup, spoon, or bottle. If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric breast pump, wash your hands before touching the pump or bottle parts, and clean/disinfect pump parts thoroughly after use.
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