Should you pause your pregnancy plans due to COVID-19?

Egypt has encouraged women to avoid pregnancy during COVID-19 – will the South African government follow suit?

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The Ministry of Health in Egypt encouraged women to avoid pregnancy during COVID-19 earlier this week. They issued a statement saying that delaying pregnancy during the coronavirus pandemic is a necessity as new discoveries have linked the virus to blood clots that may affect the placenta and the foetus’s nutrition.

Will South Africa be following the same route?

It appears not. Dr Howard Manyonga, an obstetrician and Head of The Birthing Team in Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal says there has been no official communication from the South African Health Department to that effect. “We believe that trying for a baby is a deeply personal choice and COVID-19 doesn’t change that.”

He says if you are trying for a baby and have medical concerns, you should consult your healthcare provider to evaluate the risks of a pregnancy during this pandemic.

“Ultimately, accessing antenatal care can be taxing both emotionally and physically,” he says. “This is owing to the requirement to attend antenatal care at providers based at hospitals, which are COVID-19 hotspots,” he says.

He adds that each couple must make the decision after considering all the relevant factors.

Is it better to wait before falling pregnant?

Dr Manyonga says as the virus is still relatively new, they don’t know enough about how long it will linger in society and its potential effects on pregnancy. “To date there has been no evidence to suggest that the virus could impact, or be passed on to an unborn child. Early research has shown that it’s unlikely that the virus could cause abnormalities at birth,” he explains.

Transmission is most likely to occur after delivery through close contact with the mother or other infected people.

Dr Manyonga adds that the virus hasn’t been found in the breast milk of mothers with COVID-19 infection. “There is not enough evidence to make a strong recommendation either way. We will keep watching the space for evidence-based recommendations as the results of many ongoing studies and research become available,” he says.

ALSO SEE: Giving birth during a global pandemic

What to consider before planning your pregnancy

Before you decide on your planned pregnancy, Dr Manyoga advises you keep the following in mind:

  • Public and private health services are stretched thin as the pandemic is ongoing, and it’s uncertain how long it will last. This may impact access to necessary prenatal and postnatal care. However, healthcare professionals and hospital staff are putting measures in place to ensure strict social distancing and limited interpersonal contact to help curb the spread of the virus.
  • Traditional antenatal classes are not possible at the moment, so you’ll need to attend online classes or join a WhatsApp group

ALSO SEE: Antenatal classes in the time of COVID-19

Are pregnant women at an increased risk of contracting coronavirus?

“The changes that women experience in their bodies during pregnancy may increase their risk of infections. That said, we currently don’t know if pregnant women are at a higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public. There just isn’t enough research on the virus yet. There is emerging evidence that suggests the outcomes for pregnant patients who are admitted to high care may be worse than that of non-pregnant patients,” says Dr Manyonga.

If you’re already pregnant, what safety measures can you take to protect against yourself from COVID-19?

  • The most important thing to do is to wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially when you arrive home from public spaces. This is the best way to reduce any risk of infection.
  • You should also wear a mask as stipulated by government regulations.
  • Aside from seeking medical care, expectant moms should restrict their visits to public spaces such as the grocery store or pharmacy. If you have no one else to go for you, follow the correct preventative measures.
  • Pregnant women are advised to stay at home as much as possible during this period.
  • Keep your immune system strong to protect yourself and your baby against the virus. “Carry on taking your prescribed vitamins and iron tablets. Iron is a key mineral that boosts energy levels and increases resistance to stress, infection and disease,” says Dr Manyonga. You can also add dark green leafy vegetables, like spinach, whole grains and lean proteins, such as red meat and poultry into your diet. Vitamin D is also important because it boosts the immune system by helping to regulate cells focused on fighting infections.
  • Get enough sleep. “It’s important that expectant moms get 6-9 hours of sleep a night. “This will boost your immune system and help you recover quicker if you do get sick,” Dr Manyonga adds.

More about the expert:

Dr Howard Manyonga is an obstetrician and Head of The Birthing Team, an affordable maternity programme available at Netcare Parklane in Johannesburg, Netcare Femina in Pretoria, Netcare Pholoso in Polokwane and JMH City Hospital in Durban. He has extensive local and overseas experience in the public, NGO and private health sectors, having previously headed Women’s Health at the WITS Reproductive Health and HIV Institute and was the COO of Marie Stopes South Africa. Learn more about Dr Howard Manyonga here.

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