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Pregnant in a Pandemic

Steps you can take to protect yourself

By Dr. Vanshika Gupta Adukia

Pregnancy is a time of immense joy mixed with slight jitters on what lies ahead. The expecting mother’s body goes through a whirlwind of anatomical and physiological changes as she nurtures a new life within her over a period of nine months. This is a period where an expecting mother relies most on her family, friends, and healthcare providersfor her over-all physical, mental and emotional well-being.

But what is an expecting mother supposed to expect, when suddenly the world seems to be coming to a halt, ‘social distancing’ is the current need of the hour, health care providers begin advising against meeting for otherwise routine yet mandatory prenatal checkups- catching up with family let alone friends is absolutely out of question and global health seems to be enveloped in a looming crisis.

This unfortunately has become reality for the odd 200 million expecting mothers across the globe today. Being pregnant in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is every women’s worst nightmare coming true.

With only symptomatic management, no cure yet and a vaccination that is still to see the light of the day- pregnant women are left fearing for the lives of both themselves and their baby.

The general tone set for the COVID-19 disease states that one must look at keeping those in the ‘high risk’ group safe- children, old and pregnant specifically. This statement has left those planning on conceiving or already expecting in a world full of uncertainty and fear. What does this imply for someone who is currently pregnant?

Are chances of contracting the virus higher?

Does contracting the virus during pregnancy risk the baby’s life?

Could there be life threatening implications for the mother?

Would the unborn baby sustain the pregnancy?

The list of questions that anxious pregnant mothers and families have go over and beyond these.

Although with limited data, what we currently do know is this-

Pregnancy does not increase the chances of contracting the COVID-19 virus in general, but years of research states and has proven that pregnant women are known to have a lowered immunity that compromises with their respiratory systems and makes them more prone to respiratory infections. Keeping this in mind chances are that if an expecting mother were to contract the COVID-19 virus her probability of landing up with respiratory complications are higher than that of any other non-pregnant women her age.

However, there is no evidence to suggest that a COVID-19 positive mother could pass on the infection to her unborn baby. Studies done on women positive for COVID-19 who had delivered during the pandemic revealed no evidence of the virus in their amniotic fluid, placenta tissue and breastmilk. This indicates that there is no proof to confirm vertical transmission of the virus from a positive COVID-19 expecting mother to her baby in the uterus.

Although, if an expecting COVID-19 positive woman was to deliver, currently her only option would be to undergo a Caesarean section, post which the World Health Organization advices that the mother must be encouraged to breastfeed her baby.

Unfortunately, the risk of the COVID-19 positive mother infecting her newborn through contact cannot be negated and this is something that has been seen in cases where newborns have tested positive for the virus recently, in cases reported in China and United Kingdom both.

The following precautions are recommended for COVID positive new mothers while feeding:

  1. Wash hands before touching the baby, breast pump or bottle.
  2. Try to avoid coughing or sneezing on the baby while feeding at the breast.
  3. Consider wearing a face mask while breastfeeding.
  4. Follow recommendations for pump cleaning after each use. Ensure proper sterilization of all the equipment used to pump and feed the baby.
  5. Consider asking someone who is well to feed expressed breast milk to the baby.

Precautions for expecting mothers to avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus:

  1. Avoid any non-essential use of public transport, large or small social gatherings, leisure outings to public spaces, as far as possible.
  2. Try scheduling all prenatal check-ups telephonically or virtually if it is a probability. Also look at rescheduling ultrasound appointments under the guidance of the gynaecologist.
  3. Avoid any contact with any individual who has travelled recently, has shown any symptoms of high temperature, cough and cold, or flu.
  4. Look at building your own immunity by adding a Vit C supplement and natural foods like lemon juice, honey, turmeric, ginger. Increase the intake of warm fluids and work against keeping your nasal passage dry by inhaling steam if comfortable.
  5. Opt for a flu shot under the supervision of the chosen healthcare provider.
  6. Restrict the number of visitors or guests coming home and limit the entry of outsiders who could be coming in contact with several groups of people.

Expecting mothers are advised to keep in mind that hospital guidelines and health strategies are also in flux, therefore it is a good idea to be prepared for changes depending on the situation at hand. Pregnancy goals and strategies that were once planned and were to be executed closer to delivery, may have to be completely revised and adapted to the requirements of the hour at that point of time.

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