Coronavirus and pregnancy: should you be concerned?

With the rise in coronavirus cases around the globe, you might be anxious about the risk to your unborn child. We look at the facts around the coronavirus and pregnancy and talk to moms about their concerns.

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As it stands, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected more than 190 000 people in many countries around the world and continues to spread far and wide.

Just recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a “global pandemic” and in his recent speech to the nation, our President, Cyril Ramaphosa referred to it as a “medical emergency”, declaring a national “state of disaster”.

If you’re pregnant, there’s a good chance that all these alarming facts and figures have left you feeling extremely worried, not only about yourself, but also about the wellbeing of your unborn child.

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they still don’t know if a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can pass the virus that causes COVID-19 to her foetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery. However, on their website they state that: “No infants born to mothers with COVID-19 have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. In these cases, which are a small number, the virus was not found in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk.”

Does the coronavirus affect babies in utero?

Recently, a newborn in London tested positive for the new coronavirus after the mother contracted it a week before delivery. Doctors aren’t sure if the baby contracted the virus in utero or shortly after birth, but according to Dr William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in the USA, “The baby could have contracted the virus during or immediately after birth.” This is because infections can pass on to babies from bodily fluids during delivery.

In this case, both the mother and baby made a full recovery after contracting the virus. In general, little ones have been found to suffer from milder symptoms.

In another preliminary study, research is showing the virus can’t be transmitted through pregnancy. The results came after 9 women, who were between 36-30 weeks pregnant, and who were infected with COVID-19, gave birth via C-section. (However, this study was small and more research is needed as experts begin to understand the virus better.)

ALSO SEE: 6 must-know C-section facts

How can you protect yourself during pregnancy?

As your body undergoes many changes during pregnancy, you can be more susceptible to infections including the coronavirus. This means it’s critical to protect yourself as much as possible during this time as there’s little you can take to reduce the severity of symptoms if you get sick during pregnancy.

Just recently, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced that pregnant women in the UK should avoid going out as much as possible to avoid contracting the virus. According to a report in the Daily Mail, officials say this announcement is a precautionary measure because it’s still too early to say whether COVID-19 poses a significant threat to moms-to-be.

The same should apply to South Africans as COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus to infect humans and experts are still unsure how the body’s immune system will handle it.

ALSO SEE: 2 recipes to help boost your immune system

To stay healthy, the CDC recommends:

The WHO also suggests:

  • Maintaining social distancing – where you stand at least 1.2m away from people and you don’t kiss, hug or shake hands with anyone.

It’s also important to avoid touching your face, nose and mouth (especially when you’re out) and to maintain a healthy lifestyle as far as possible, including:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Avoiding stress (even though you probably feel anxious)
  • Eating plenty of healthy fruits and veggies
  • Sticking to moderate exercise.

What moms-to-be are most concerned about

Durban-based marketing manager and mom, Carmen Maria was initially nervous when she found out that the coronavirus had reached South Africa. This is because she has a two-year-old toddler in creche and is currently 24 weeks pregnant with her son.

“My daughter brings all sorts of ‘bugs’ home from creche and as a result, I haven’t been as healthy during this pregnancy as I was with my first pregnancy.

I recently suffered from a post-nasal drip for over a month, so I know that my immune system is a little compromised. Also, there’s limited medication you can take during pregnancy and I’ve been nervous about contracting anything serious such as the coronavirus. This is because the last thing I want is to be hospitalised and run the risk of picking up other infections too, or to have to take any medication that could possibly harm my unborn baby.”

Freelance writer, Marianne Macdonald is almost 20 weeks pregnant with a little boy and has a busy four-year-old son, too. “To be honest, I’m more concerned about having to be in hospital as that’s where viruses are more concentrated and you have less control over who you come into contact with,” she says. “I’m hoping things will have calmed down by the time I’m due to give birth. In the meantime, I’m making sure to keep up the family’s immunity by washing and sanitising hands as much as possible and taking vitamins.”

If you suspect you may be infected with the coronavirus, you may not be required to go to hospital, so it’s important to follow these steps first:

  • As soon as you have symptoms such as a fever, dry cough, or a tight chest/difficulty breathing, call your GP. (Don’t go to their rooms without speaking to them first).
  • Your GP will then ask you a few questions, such as to explain what your symptoms are, whether you’ve travelled recently etc.
  • Based on your answers, your GP will advise you if testing is necessary, as well as whether you should self-isolate in the interim.
  • Your GP will email you a completed form required for lab testing and will advise which lab to go to as well as the procedure involved. The lab will arrange how to take a swab without you entering the facility.
  • Experts advise not to go to emergency rooms or doctor’s rooms without prior arrangements as this can put the staff and other patients at risk.
  • You can also call the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) Covid-19 Toll Free number on 0800 029 999.
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