If you are expecting a child within the upcoming months or have recently found out that you are pregnant, you might be concerned about the COVID-19 and the effects it can have on your pregnancy. In this article, we will explore the basic information you need to know about COVID-19 along with specialized tips for expectant mothers.
What is COVID-19?
Since November of 2019, our world has experienced a once-in-a-century event: the COVID-19 pandemic. Otherwise known as the coronavirus, this virus first appeared in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It has spread throughout the world, eventually making its presence in nearly every country on earth. Italy and Spain are also considered hotspots where the virus was particularly deadly. The virus appeared and was reported in the United States on January 12, 2020.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as of April 7, 2020, the United States has 330,891 cases resulting in 8,910 deaths. Cases have been reported in all 50 states in the U.S. and the U.S. territories including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands. Currently, the states reporting the highest number of cases (5,001+) are Washington, California, Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
The disease is spread very quickly by touch—droplets (from a sneeze or cough). It can live on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. There are several notable symptoms that are the trademark of COVID-19. The main symptoms to look out for are the following:
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest
If you think you might be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms listed above, the CDC has a symptom self-checker on their website. Here, the system will walk you through a list of symptoms where you can select the ones you have at the moment. If any symptom you select could be life-threatening, the self-checker will notify you to seek medical assistance immediately. If you are experiencing symptoms, it is important to first see your primary care physician (PCP) or family doctor to see if you can get testing. Additionally, expectant mothers should contact their OBGYN if they are experiencing symptoms and keep them notified of testing results or worsening symptoms. States are handling testing differently, so it is also important to look at your state government’s website for specific guidelines on where and when you can get tested. If available, drive-thru testing is a viable option that can keep you away from the general public but still get the care you need.
What happens if I am pregnant? What should I do?
While pregnant women or expectant mothers are not listed on the CDC’s website as a vulnerable population for exposure to the virus, it is safe to say that extra caution needs to be taken if you fall into this category. More research is being done to see if additional special precautions need to be taken. If you have other preexisting health conditions such as the ones mentioned in the COVID-19 general knowledge above, it is even more crucial that you remain as safe as possible. Pregnancy can reduce or weaken a woman’s immune system, making her more susceptible to the virus, which could—in theory—place her into an immunocompromised situation. Again, it is crucial to follow all precautions that you can.
There is also no current evidence to tell whether contracting COVID-19 during a pregnancy can cause problems for the mother or the baby or cause any unexpected health concerns, including passing the virus from mother to child. According to the CDC, only a few cases have been documented where infants have tested positive for COVID-19 before or immediately after birth, but this is extremely rare. However, it has been confirmed in a small number of situations that no transmission occurs through breastmilk. The overall number of women with COVID-19 that have given birth is very low, thankfully, so this is the cause for the lack of data.
In addition to vague results about symptomatology for pregnant women, hospitals are also placing extremely strict regulations on hospital visitors during birth. Usually, only the partner is allowed in the delivery room with no visitors at all. However, some maternity units are not allowing anyone but the mother and the doctors in the delivery room. This can be overwhelming for some women, especially since giving birth can be a taxing and long process.
According to an article in The New York Times, the most important thing to make sure of after you give birth is make sure that “the baby is being taken care of by a healthy caregiver.” In addition, the article suggests keeping your prenatal records on file because hospital computer systems are getting so overwhelmed by the massive influx of COVID-19 patients. Ensure that you and your family are up-to-date on vaccines to possibly eliminate any additional risk that could present itself (The New York Times).
In the meantime, before you give birth, be extra vigilant about your health and your baby’s health. There are precautions that are recommended for expectant mothers (along with the general public) to take during this pandemic to help you and your child remain safe:
- Stay inside as much as possible. It is recommended to self-quarantine.
- Follow social distancing, not social isolation.
- Try and use delivery services for groceries, medications, or other essentials.
- If you must get out for essentials, wear a cloth face mask and gloves. The CDC has recommended cloth face masks for people who are not ill. Do not wear hospital or surgical grade masks meant for hospital or healthcare personnel.
- Stay connected with friends and family you are not able to see because of social distancing through virtual resources like FaceTime, Zoom, Facebook Messenger, or Skype.
- Wash your hands frequently for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that has 60% alcohol. Here is an informative video from the CDC about handwashing.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hand.
- Clean all places in your house that are frequented with a bleach or alcohol solution.
What is the difference between social distancing and social isolation?
Social distancing is the encouraged behavior to follow during COVID-19. Essentially, you do not leave your place of residence unless it is for a medical appointment, to take care of an ill loved one, a court order, or to get essential needs such as medications or groceries. You are still free to leave your home to take a walk, go to a park, or do other activities. However, it is necessary to stay six feet apart from other people when doing so. Six feet is the recommended distance because of how quickly and far the virus can spread through coughing, sneezing, or talking.
Social isolation is completely shutting yourself off from outside contact. It is not good for your mental health. In fact, there is a large possibility that it can lead to worsening mental health rather than doing good. Social isolation, according to the CDC, is to quarantine sick individuals from those who do not have the virus.
How should I be feeling right now as an expectant parent? Should I be watching my mental health?
First off, you should always be conscientious of your mental health. During a pandemic, it is completely normal to feel anxious or on edge. This is unlike anything anyone in our lifetime has experienced, so the fear of the unknown is more present now than ever. Many people are panicking, swarming the grocery and other essential stores, and isolating themselves. This makes doing basic tasks that people normally complete extremely difficult. However, everyone reacts differently to unknown situations, so you should not expect to feel a certain way. Each person in the world handles things differently.
However, when you are getting ready to have a baby, the stakes are a bit higher than for most people. Allie Buchanan, a mother who is expecting twins in just a few short weeks, emphasizes the stress that these times are causing for pregnant women. She says, “This pregnancy, while my third, has felt like my first with all of the new questions and concerns brought on by COVID-19. Typically, there is a lot of excitement at the thought of bringing home a new baby. Now, I just want them to stay in utero because that’s the safest place for them right now. No one will get to meet them for weeks, anyways. It has been extremely taxing to say the least.”
Research has shown that extreme global events, such as COVID-19, are considered traumatic events. This means that people can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from dealing with the impact of such a traumatic event.
If I am an adoptive or foster parent awaiting placement or adoption, should I be concerned?
For those who are waiting on a placement for a foster child or to adopt a child (whether a newborn or an older child), COVID-19 can cause some anxiety as well. Be sure to keep in virtual or telephone contact with the expectant parents, adoption agency, or social worker you have been working with, if possible, to be aware of any presence of the virus. It is also important to follow all the aforementioned CDC guidelines in this article.
How long will COVID-19 last in the U.S.?
According to The New York Times, currently experts are predicting that social distancing will continue for another 1-3 months. While many states are taking great efforts to reduce the spread of the virus such as limiting the amount of people in stores and public places, enforcing social distancing, establishing curfews, and mandating stay-at-home orders, the United States still has quite a long way to go before life returns to normal. As soon as evidence of “flattening the curve” is evident, the restrictions will most likely become much lighter. “Flattening the curve” is an effort to try and lower the amount of COVID-19 cases that need hospitalizations to not overwhelm hospitals more than they already are.
What can I do to plan for a long-term quarantine as an expectant mother?
Right now, it is strongly advised NOT to panic-buy or stockpile items like food or paper products. Grocery stores are overwhelmed and understocked by the people who are panic buying, meaning that there are less supplies for those who need them—people like you! As an expectant mother, it would be good to stock up on the essentials like diapers and baby wipes so that you are prepared if your local stores have a limited stock of them. If you are an adoptive or foster parent expecting a child, it would also be a good idea to stock up on the things you will need to alleviate any additional stress during this time.
Some last words…
No matter what you may be seeing on social media or in the news, COVID-19 is something that needs to be taken seriously. While you do not need to panic, you do need to prepare yourself and your home for the upcoming birth of your child. Stock up on the essentials, stay as healthy as you can, and keep in constant communication with your doctors (both primary care physician and OBGYN or other women’s health/pregnancy doctor). Additionally, following the tips listed in the article above can help you reduce your risk of getting COVID-19. This is a time of uncertainty, meaning that it is perfectly normal to feel anxious, worried, or have a number of other overwhelming emotions during an abnormal situation. Take the time you are spending at home to get everything done in preparation for the new baby, but most importantly, take time to connect with family, take care of yourself, and stay healthy and safe.