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No evidence yet of higher COVID-19 risks for pregnant women, but doctors encourage caution

Early evidence indicates pregnant women may not be at greater risk than other adults if they contract COVID-19, but physicians are being cautious and encouraging physical distancing before and after delivery.

Many women experience anxiety during pregnancy and delivery, but the current prevalence of COVID-19 has created a new set of concerns for expectant mothers.

Early evidence suggests women who are pregnant aren’t at higher risk if they catch COVID-19, but M Health Fairview experts are still encouraging their patients to practice physical distancing and follow expert recommendations to reduce their chances of becoming infected.

“Right now, we don’t have a lot of data about how pregnant women are impacted,” said M Health Fairview Maternal-Fetal Medicine Physician Sarah Cross, MD, who is also the medical director of The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. “Early experiences from China make us cautiously assured that this virus doesn’t put expectant mothers at greater risk than other adults, but we don’t have all the information we want yet.”

Early research data indicates that the coronavirus causing COVID-19 is not associated with a higher risk of miscarriage or birth defects, Cross said, but information is very limited for women in their first trimester. Women are not at risk of transmitting the virus across the placenta, during delivery, or in breast milk, according to early reports.

“Current evidence suggests the baby can only contract the virus through the same ways we all get it, such as droplets that are spread when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes,” Cross said.

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, M Health Fairview is encouraging women with low-risk pregnancies to conduct some of their prenatal visits virtually if possible, Cross said. Women can contact their clinic or care team to make specific arrangements.

Expecting moms can be assured that when they do arrive at an M Health Fairview hospital for their delivery, steps will be taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Women near their due date also don’t have to worry about whether resources will be available when it’s time to deliver.

“We may see a slight increase in the number of babies born over the coming months compared to what we normally would expect, because COVID-19 data suggests a slight increase in the rate of pre-term births.” Cross said. “We will have the appropriate staffing, beds and supplies needed to accommodate our expectant moms.”

The biggest change for mothers, according to Cross, will likely be the visitor restrictions – both at the hospital and at home – that will limit the amount of in-person support mothers will have during their delivery and early days at home.

M Health Fairview already has implemented enhanced visitor restrictions throughout the care system. No visitors are allowed on hospital or clinic campuses, with the exception of one visitor in Labor and Delivery units. That means women can have their spouse, partner or other person support them during the delivery. But additional family members, such as siblings and the baby’s grandparents, have to stay home.

Learn more about enhanced visitor restrictions at M Health Fairview hospitals and clinics.

“We’re used to having family come and celebrate the baby’s arrival, so this will be a different experience for women,” Cross said. “But we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep our newborns and moms safe. We also need to ensure safety for our providers and staff at our hospitals.”

Physicians also recommend families extend visitor restrictions to their homes. That means family members should not visit the new baby when they return home.

“This may be the biggest change for new moms,” Cross said. “We recommend they exercise caution in having parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or others visit the baby or help the family as they normally would in the early days after birth. We also advise that new parents refrain from large family gatherings. We know this may feel isolating for families, but we need to encourage physical distancing even during the postpartum period.”

These restrictions make doctors concerned about the potential for an increase in postpartum depression, since women won’t have family support they might have expected. Cross said M Health Fairview physicians will encourage women to keep in close contact with their doctors to report any signs of depression.

“We know this is an extremely challenging time, but our experts are here to support you every step of the way,” Cross said. “Reach out to your doctor or care team virtually or over the phone with your questions, and know that we can get you the resources you need.”