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Coronavirus: Pregnancy and your babyCoronavirus: Pregnancy and your baby

Coronavirus: Pregnancy and your baby

How significant is the risk posed by COVID-19 for mother and baby?

Below you will find a summary of the latest findings on coronavirus (COVID-19), the symptoms of the disease and the impact for pregnant women, unborn babies and children (updated: 16/03/2020).

1. COVID-19/ SARS-CoV-2 – symptoms and disease progression
There is currently no vaccine for coronavirus. The only option, at present, is to treat the symptoms. In the event of infection, it is sensible to seek professional medical assistance in order to prevent more serious symptoms developing. In order to avoid transmitting the disease to others, patients who believe they have the infection should phone the relevant emergency medical helpline and follow the advice given. The time between infection and the appearance of the first symptoms (incubation period) is 5-6 days on average (but could be anywhere between 1–14 days).

According to the Robert Koch Institute, the symptoms of the disease are as follows:

  • Fever – 80% of cases
  • Cough – 60% of cases
  • Shortness of breath – almost 20% of cases
  • Sore throat, muscle/joint pain, headache – less than 20% of cases
  • In rare cases: diarrhoea, sickness, sneezing and runny nose

However the progression of the disease is very different in each person, ranging from cases with no symptoms at all or a slight cough, to cases resulting in serious respiratory problems, multiple organ failure or even death. Here is what we currently know about the disease progression, based primarily on data from China:

  • 80% of patients have mild to moderate disease.
  • The probability of a fatal outcome is greater among patients aged 60 and over and patients with serious long-term underlying health conditions.
  • Under 20s account for 2.4% of cases (in China), suggesting they are much less likely to be affected; however they can still pass the virus on to other risk groups.
  • There are also some cases of serious disease progression in patients outside the risk groups.
  • Most children appear to have only mild symptoms.
  • There is currently no evidence to suggest that pregnant women have more serious illness from COVID-19.
  • However, given that the immune system changes throughout pregnancy, it is possible that pregnant women may be more vulnerable to infection.  
  • Measures should also be taken to avoid infection, since we do not yet know what the long-term impact will be e.g. (damage to the lungs).

It is currently thought that the virus is primarily spread by respiratory droplets. It may also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, although we do not yet know how significant this method of transmission is in the overall figures. What is known is that the virus can survive for several hours on surfaces, unless it is killed by cleaning the surfaces with disinfectant.

There is currently no evidence that COVID19 can be transmitted to the foetus or that pregnant women have more serious illness.

STIKO (the German Standing Committee on Vaccination) therefore recommends that pregnant women have a flu vaccination (despite the fact we are currently reaching the end of the flu season) in order avoid being infected with both flu and COVID-19.

2. Can I pass coronavirus on to my baby?

There is currently no evidence that coronavirus can be passed from mother to baby in the womb. The reason for this is that the virus is most active in the lungs and intestine, not the blood, so there is little chance of it being passed on to the baby.

To date, NO virus has been found in the breastmilk, cord blood or amniotic fluid of infected mothers.

There are a few known cases of newborn babies infected with SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19; however it is impossible to know whether the virus was transmitted before, during or after the birth.

3. Recommendations for pregnant women/mothers:

  • Wash hands regularly with soap for at least 30 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your face as much as possible.
  • Get a flu vaccination (if needed) to prevent a double infection.
  • Face masks are only recommended for pregnant women infected with coronavirus in order to prevent the disease being passed on to others.
  • Face marks on their own do not provide any protection for the wearer. It is much more effective to wash your hands regularly, avoid contact with others and practice social distancing.
  • You can continue to breastfeed your baby.
  • Avoid public transport.
  • Like everyone else, it is essential that you comply with any official restrictions on your movements and daily activities. Even if there are no restrictions in place in your region, stay at home as much as possible and avoid any non-essential contact with others. Even if pregnant women do not appear to have more serious illness, there is still a risk and you could unknowingly pass the infection on to others, even if you don’t feel unwell.
  • In Austria, the guidelines recommend that check-ups for healthy pregnant women e.g. those set out in the Mutter-Kind-Pass (Mother-Child Booklet), should be postponed. Vaccinations can be administered (updated: 16/03/2020).

As with any information about coronavirus, it is important to remember that there is still very little data and few studies have been conducted, so many questions have no definitive answer. The best approach, therefore, is for everyone to take precautions. There is no need to panic, but pregnant women in particular must not underestimate the seriousness of the situation. It is essential to heed all travel warnings and restrictions.

Some people consider the restrictions imposed in different regions to be an overreaction given the very small number of cases. However, the danger is that the virus could spread very quickly because COVID-19 is so infectious. If too many people become unwell at the same time, intensive care units will be overwhelmed and unable to treat all patients because there will not be enough ventilators, for instance. They will also not have enough capacity to handle other medical emergencies.

It is therefore vital that you look after yourself and your loved ones, so that it doesn’t come to that.

Note: The information provided is as of March 2020. Since the state of knowledge about COVID-19 is constantly changing, we cannot guarantee its accuracy. If in doubt, please consult your doctor!