Unlike the Severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS pandemic of 2003-2004, which was also caused by a Corona virus, pregnant mothers are not in the higher risk bracket from COVID-19.
Stressful, even during normal times, pregnancy can be deeply disturbing during a pandemic induced lockdown. Even more so if you or someone close to you has tested positive for the coronavirus. Here’s a few do’s and don’ts for expectant mothers during these troubled times, based on what we know so far about the virus.
Unlike the Severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS pandemic of 2003-2004, which was also caused by a Corona virus, pregnant mothers are not in the higher risk bracket from COVID-19. During the SARS outbreak, pregnant women had a fatality risk of 25 per cent compared to 10 per cent of the general population. This is mostly based on a report on 9 pregnant women from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, who had COVID-induced pneumonia. The report, published in the Lancet, said none of the women, who were in their third trimester, developed severe illness, and all their babies were born healthy and Corona virus free. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a report on February 28 of 147 pregnant women, of whom, 64 were confirmed to have coronavirus, 82 were suspected to have the virus and one showed no symptoms. According to the report, only 8% of these women developed a severe condition and only 1% fell critically ill.
This does not mean pregnant women can afford to be complacent as the immunity system tends to dip during pregnancy, making the women vulnerable to various infections and diseases, including COVID-19. So, ensure that the diet contains immunity boosting and iron rich food, including fruits, leafy vegetables and nuts. You should also continue to take all the vitamin supplements the doctor may have prescribed.
Apart from following the standard guidelines like avoiding crowds and sick people, frequently washing hands and not touching the face, doctors recommend scrupulously maintaining social distancing, avoiding public areas and wearing a mask whenever you are outdoors.
Given the stress on the healthcare system, and the possibility of infections from hospitals, you should check whether your doctor or hospital offers tele-medicine facilities. Don’t visit the hospital unless it is absolutely necessary, or for critical checkups. Never go without a clear appointment. Always keep your records handy, and insist that the doctor mail you any advice or medicine prescribed, so that you don’t make mistakes. Make sure you inform your doctor/health provider if you have any symptoms like fever, respiratory symptoms or even diarrhea, or if you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Avoid over the counter medications to treat cough and cold.
Deliver With Care
Because of the corona restrictions, many hospitals do not allow more than one visitor during your delivery. So, ensure that your spouse or partner is prepared for that, and have a backup in place in case he cannot be present there. Explain this to other members of your family and friends so that they do not arrive at the hospital. After the delivery, make sure that you have a backup support to take care of you and the baby, particularly if the original support system involved elders of the family.
What If You Test Positive?
If you have tested positive for COVID-19 during your pregnancy or just before delivery, don’t worry. Initial studies indicate that the virus does not transmit to uterus, or through breastmilk. However, it is important to ensure that the newborn does not get infected through contact with someone who has tested positive for the disease. In that case, doctors will usually isolate the baby, which will be looked after by healthy caregivers in protective gear. This can be traumatic, so be prepared for it. Your partner might be allowed to spend time with the child if he tests negative. If you want to give milk to your child using a breast pump, do ensure proper hygiene, and wear a mask while using the pump. Direct breastfeeding might be allowed if the infected mother wears a mask, but do you really want to take the risk?
Dr. Ruchi Tandon is a Gynecologist with over 13 years experience in handling pregnancies and is currently practicing in Max smart superspeciality hospital , Saket and Apollo Cradle Royale , Nehru place, both in South Delhi.