COVID-19 FAQs: Are pregnant women ‘high risk’?

CDC: Pregnant women might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19

Dr. Amy Kelley headshot

Doctors and medical researchers are still learning about the effects of this new virus on pregnancy.

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.

Dr. Amy Kelley, an OB/GYN with Sanford Women’s in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, says there isn’t a lot of data right now.

“What we do know is viruses similar to COVID-19 do hit pregnant women harder, and pregnant women do have a higher risk of more issues and complications from other viruses that are similar,” Dr. Kelley told Sanford Health News.

Impact on health care workers

Sanford maternal-fetal medicine specialist Peter Van Eerden, M.D., concentrates on high-risk pregnancies and prenatal ultrasounds in Fargo, North Dakota.

He says pregnant women in health care can still work. Based on current evidence, a group of clinical experts made new recommendations April 3 for pregnant caregivers at Sanford Health. These include preventing pregnant health care workers from providing direct care for patients under investigation for COVID-19 or confirmed to have COVID-19.

Additionally, pregnant health care workers should work remotely and stay at home for two weeks prior to their anticipated delivery date — no later than 37 weeks of pregnancy.

“Women who are working in a hospital setting and pregnant might not want to take care of a patient who is positive for COVID-19 or has an actual infection,” Dr. Van Eerden said.

Impact on babies and breast milk

According to the CDC and its limited findings, there have been a small number of reported problems such as preterm delivery when mothers have tested positive for COVID-19 during their pregnancy. However, it isn’t clear if the outcomes were related to maternal infection.

Breastfeeding mothers are unlikely to transmit the new coronavirus to their babies via their milk, according to the CDC and a recently published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, questions about the potential risk remain.

COVID-19 is spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. So if you are sick and breastfeeding, you can reduce the risk of spreading the virus by wearing a mask and washing your hands. As an alternative, Sanford Health suggests pumping breast milk, letting a healthy caregiver bottle-feed, and sterilizing pumping equipment after each use.

What pregnant women can do

Sanford Health released additional recommendations for labor and delivery as of April 3.

If you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 at the time of delivery, you and your provider will discuss the best option for keeping you and your baby safe. Your baby may be cared for in your room or in another room based on both mother’s and newborn’s health needs.

Both Dr. Van Eerden and Dr. Kelley suggest women use an abundance of caution whether pregnant or caring for a newborn at home like covering your coughs and sneezes, practicing increased hand-washing and avoiding others who may be experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms. As with any concerns, they encourage women to contact their OB/GYN or other health care provider.

“We’re trying to disseminate as much information as we can to all people taking care of women who are pregnant right now or have young children,” Dr. Kelley said.

She encourages women to stay home if they’re not feeling well. They should consider calling if they experience more concerning symptoms, such as shortness of breath or an uncontrollable fever.

This story was originally published on April 6, 2020. It was last updated Aug. 31, 2020, to include new information about COVID-19 and breast milk.

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Posted In Coronavirus, Fargo, Frequently Asked Questions, News, Pregnancy, Sioux Falls, Specialty Care, Women's

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