Navigating pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic

How to protect yourself and your baby

A new mother rests after giving birth in Baria, Gujarat, India.
09 February 2022

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Pregnancy is a special time full of excitement and anticipation. But for many people, the COVID-19 pandemic has clouded this time with fear, anxiety and uncertainty.

Here is the latest information on pregnancy, COVID-19 and vaccines, as well as expert tips on how to have a safe pregnancy during the pandemic.

We will update this article as new information becomes available.

I'm pregnant. Am I at higher risk from COVID-19?

Pregnant women do not seem to be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. However, you are at higher risk of serious illness if you get COVID-19 while pregnant. You are also at higher risk of delivering your baby prematurely if you get COVID-19.

That’s why it’s important you – and people around you – take precautions to protect against COVID-19. Seek medical care early if you experience symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

What should I do to protect myself from COVID-19 while pregnant?

Pregnant women should take the same precautions to avoid COVID-19 infection as other people. To help protect yourself and people around you:

  • Consider vaccination in consultation with your healthcare provider.
  • Wear a mask where physical distancing from others is not possible.
  • Keep a physical distance from others and avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces.
  • Open windows to improve ventilation indoors.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.

If you have fever, cough or difficulty breathing, seek medical care early.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m pregnant?

Yes, you can get vaccinated if you are pregnant. Although the overall risk of severe illness from COVID-19 remains low, pregnancy puts you at higher risk of severe illness compared to people who are not pregnant.

While there is less data available on vaccination of pregnant people, evidence on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy has been growing, and no safety concerns have been identified. For more information about receiving a COVID-19 vaccination while pregnant, speak to your healthcare provider.

Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m breastfeeding?

Yes, if you are breastfeeding you should take the vaccine as soon as it is available to you. It is very safe and there is no risk to the mother or baby. None of the current COVID-19 vaccines have live virus in them, so there is no risk of you transmitting COVID-19 to your baby through your breastmilk from the vaccine. In fact, the antibodies that you have after vaccination may go through the breast milk and help protect your baby.

I plan to have a child. Can COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility?

No, you may have seen false claims on social media, but there is no evidence that any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines, can affect fertility in women or men. You should get vaccinated if you are currently trying to become pregnant.

If I have COVID-19 will I pass it to my baby?

We still do not know if the virus can be transmitted from a mother to her unborn or newborn baby. To date, active COVID-19 (virus that causes infection) has not been found in fluid in the womb or breastmilk.

The best thing you can do is to take all necessary precautions to prevent yourself from contracting COVID-19. If you’re pregnant or have just given birth and feel sick, then you should seek medical care promptly and follow instructions from your health care provider.

Is it safe to continue prenatal check-ups?

Many expectant mothers are fearful of going to appointments while they are taking precautions, such as staying home and practicing physical distancing when outside. Find out what options are available to you from your healthcare provider.

After your child is born, it is also important to continue receiving professional support and guidance, including routine immunizations. Speak to your healthcare provider about the safest way to have these appointments, for you and your baby.

I was planning on giving birth in a hospital or healthcare clinic. Is this still a good option?

The risk involved depends on where you live. For the safest option for you, it is important to speak to the healthcare professional who is supporting you through your pregnancy and birth. They will be able to advise you on the risks and the safest option depending on your personal situation and local health care system.

Can my partner or family member be nearby when I give birth?

While policies vary by country, you should have someone nearby to support you, as long as the proper precautions are taken, such as wearing a mask while in the delivery room and washing hands.

As Franka Cadée, President of the International Confederation of Midwives, told us: “I can understand that you want to reduce the number of people with a woman while she is giving birth because you’re trying to reduce contact, and that is very very logical, but let’s make sure that a woman has someone, one person, with her while she’s giving birth – her partner, her sister, her mother, [or the closest person of her choice]. And please keep the babies with the mothers.”

I’m feeling incredibly anxious about giving birth. What should I do to cope?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stressful and uncertain time for everyone, and especially for those about to give birth. Having a plan in place for your birth can help ease feelings of anxiety by giving you more of a sense of control, but also recognize that some aspects may need to change depending on the situation where you live. Your plan should include who to phone when your labour begins and who will be providing support. Find out if there are any restrictions at the hospital for support people or family members.

Do some simple things at home to relax like stretches, breathing exercises and calling your midwife when you feel the need. Stay connected with family and friends, eat well, sleep well and focus on taking care of yourself. It is a difficult time, but try to enjoy being pregnant as much as you possibly can.

What questions should I be asking my healthcare provider?

It is important to establish a trusting relationship with your healthcare provider. “All of those questions that have to do with you and your health, I would ask them freely,” says Franka Cadée, President of the International Confederation of Midwives. “If you have an open relationship with your healthcare provider – with your midwife, with your obstetrician – they will discuss these things with you and answer you openly. It is your absolute right to know these things because it’s your body and your baby.”

Cadée recommends creating a system of how and when to communicate with your healthcare provider. For example, organize a routine around appointments, and how to get in touch for urgent care. It may also be helpful to talk to care providers in advance about obtaining a copy of your health records including record of prenatal care, in case of any disruption or change in services.

When it comes to your plan for giving birth, it is important to ask as many questions as you need. Cadée suggests the following:

●            Am I at risk of COVID-19 in this space? Has someone else been here with the COVID-19?

●            How do you separate people with COVID-19 from people who have not?

●            Is there enough protective clothing for the healthcare professionals?

●            Am I allowed to take someone with me? If not, why not?

●            Am I allowed to keep my baby with me? If not, why not?

●            Am I able to breastfeed my baby? If not, why not?

I have COVID-19. What should I expect during pregnancy or childbirth?

If you have or suspect you may have COVID-19, it is important to seek medical care early and follow instructions from your health care provider.

Remember that you and your child have the right to high quality care throughout your pregnancy and after childbirth.

You should be supported to:

  • Breastfeed safely (see breastfeeding tips during COVID-19)
  • Hold your newborn skin-to-skin
  • Share a room with your baby

Close contact and early, exclusive breastfeeding helps a baby to thrive, and is good for the mother’s health as well.

When around your baby you should take precautions, including wearing a medical mask if available, washing hands before and after contact, and cleaning/disinfecting surfaces.

I have COVID-19. Can I safely breastfeed my baby?

Yes. Transmission of active COVID-19 (virus that can cause infection) through breast milk and breastfeeding has not been detected to date, so there is no reason to stop or avoid breastfeeding.

If you have or suspect you may have the COVID-19 virus, it is important to seek medical care early and follow instructions from your health care provider. Mothers well enough to breastfeed should take precautions, including wearing a medical mask if available, washing hands before and after contact, and cleaning/disinfecting surfaces. If you are too ill to breastfeed, express milk and give it to your child via a clean cup and/or spoon – all while following the same precautions.

Once I have given birth, what can I do to protect my newborn from the COVID-19 virus?

The level of risk involved depends on where you live. As a starting point, check for any relevance guidance from your local authorities. You should take more precautions in areas with higher rates of COVID-19 transmission and lower levels of vaccinations.

If the risk is higher where you live, then consider sticking to just your family and not asking for visitors right now.

Although it’s a difficult time, try to see the positive side of having this time to bond as a family. Without the influx of visitors, you can focus better on spending time with your new baby. “Sometimes it can be very busy for young mothers and fathers to have so many visitors,” says Franka Cadée, President of the International Confederation of Midwives. “Enjoy the quietness of your [immediate] family together for this time. It’s quite special to be able to bond with your baby alone, discover that new human being and enjoy that.”