We are learning more about potential health risks between COVID-19 and pregnancy, labor and delivery.
Jeanne Hassebroek-Johnson, M.D., who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology, addresses some frequently asked questions on potential pregnancy risks.
Do we know if pregnant women are high-risk?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines June 25 addressing coronavirus and pregnancy, breastfeeding and potential risks to mom or baby. The CDC added pregnancy to the list of medical conditions that might increase risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Pregnant women should take precautions not to get sick.
Right now, Dr. Hassebroek-Johnson says, the closest known disease to this is influenza.
“We basically have to … assume that pregnant women are going to suffer similar kind of complications with COVID,” she said. “In that case, they would be at increased risk. Certainly, they have less respiratory capacity because the baby is coming up and they have less lung volume and a lot more fluid within their systems. That makes a difference in everything being more wet to start with. When the process of lung damage starts happening, we expect this will be worse for them.”
What are you hearing from your patients right now?
“Nobody wants to contract COVID, and nobody wants to suffer serious consequences from COVID,” Dr. Hassebroek-Johnson said. “They’re trying to protect themselves, which is difficult. Sometimes, it’s a financial issue because they need to go to work and there isn’t any way to keep them out of work and financially sound, so it’s tough.”
How are you easing that anxiety?
Dr. Hassebroek-Johnson and her team are telling women to take all the precautions they can, including social distancing as much as possible and working from home if their situation allows.
“I’m very pleased to see the CDC came out suggesting that all Americans wear masks. We really think that will help them stay protected, too.”
Has the labor and delivery process changed?
The labor and delivery process hasn’t changed much, Dr. Hassebroek-Johnson says.
“We have just one visitor with them in labor now as opposed to the option to have additional family members or friends in with them during labor or visiting the baby. That’s really, again, to cut down on that exposure risk or risk that anyone who contracts it — new mom, baby, anyone.
“When we get people who are actively COVID-infected and in labor, that might change what labor looks like. Because their work of breathing is so much harder when they’re infected, it’s very difficult for them to push out their babies.”
Because of that, Dr. Hassebroek-Johnson said there were reports initially finding a higher cesarean section rate. But until they learn more or have COVID-positive patients, they will await the latest information on proper care for mom and baby.
This story was originally published on April 14, 2020. It was updated June 26, 2020, to reflect new CDC guidelines.
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