COVID-19 and pregnancy: Staying safe, giving birth and getting vaccinated
What we know about safe pregnancy in the pandemic’s fourth year
Pregnancy is a very special time in a woman and her family’s life — but it can be very stressful.
Parents-to-be often have lots of questions about keeping their babies safe and well during pregnancy.
With the COVID-19 pandemic entering its fourth year, we asked UNICEF health experts to explain what we now know about the best ways for pregnant women to protect themselves and their babies.
“How dangerous is COVID-19 for pregnant women and their unborn babies?”
Pregnant women are not at a higher risk of getting infected with COVID-19 than anyone else. But if you are pregnant and get COVID-19, you have a higher risk of becoming seriously unwell, needing hospital treatment and dying from the virus than non-pregnant people. It can also be dangerous for your baby.
If you get COVID-19 when you are pregnant, there’s a higher chance that:
You could deliver your baby prematurely.
Your baby could need prolonged hospital care.
Babies who are born prematurely have a greater risk of lifelong health issues, and their brain development can be delayed.
For these reasons, The World Health Organization classify pregnant women as a group who are at high-risk of bad outcomes from COVID-19.
They recommend that pregnant women are prioritised for COVID-19 vaccinations, and booster doses, to help keep mothers and their unborn babies safe.
You can find more information on the risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy here.
“Which pregnant women are most at risk from COVID-19?”
You are most at risk of getting seriously unwell from COVID-19 if you:
Have pre-existing medical conditions, including high blood pressure, a heart condition and diabetes.
If you have a high risk of being exposed to COVID-19, for example, you’re a health care worker, you are also at a greater risk.
“How can I best protect myself and my unborn baby from COVID-19?”
If you are pregnant, it’s really important that you — and all those around you — take precautions to protect you from COVID-19 by:
Washing hands frequently (with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water for at least 20 seconds).
Avoiding crowds and indoor public spaces.
Keeping space between yourself and other people.
Wearing a well-fitting mask when you can’t keep distance.
Opening windows to improve ventilation indoors.
Limiting in-person interactions with people who might have been exposed to COVID-19.
Covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze.
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19, including booster doses.
Growing evidence shows that getting vaccinated could help protect your baby against COVID-19 too. Read more in the studies here and here.
If you, or anyone in your household, becomes sick with symptoms of COVID-19 (including with fever, cough or difficulty breathing), speak to a health worker as soon as possible and follow isolation guidance.
>> Advice for caring for someone with COVID-19 at home can be found here.
“Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for me and my baby?”
Yes. Experts have carefully reviewed the available safety data and concluded that it's safe for pregnant women to get the COVID-19 vaccine before and during pregnancy.
Evidence continues to build showing that COVID-19 vaccination is safe, effective, and beneficial to both pregnant women and their babies.
Experts believe the benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 far outweigh any potential risks. Here is why:
None of the approved COVID-19 vaccines use the live virus that causes COVID-19, so they cannot make anyone sick with COVID-19.
All COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved have been studied on pregnant animals. In these studies, there have been no harmful effects to animals’ unborn babies.
Data from small studies into the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have shown that vaccination has no adverse impact on pregnancy.
These studies have also shown that COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be as effective for pregnant women as for non-pregnant women of the same age.
To date, large numbers of people around the world and in South Asia have been vaccinated against COVID-19 while pregnant or breastfeeding. No safety concerns have been identified for them or their babies.
If you have concerns, talk to your health worker about the benefits of vaccination and reducing your risk, to help you make the choice that is right for you.
“When in my pregnancy can I get vaccinated against COVID-19?”
You can get vaccinated against COVID-19, including booster doses, at any point in your pregnancy. Speak to your health worker about scheduling your COVID-19 vaccinations.
“I was vaccinated against COVID-19 before I got pregnant. Do I need to get a booster?”
The World Health Organization recommends pregnant women are prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines and booster doses. It is safe to get vaccinated at any point during your pregnancy.
If you are pregnant and have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you can have a booster dose 4-6 months after your last vaccination.
You are eligible for a second booster (fourth) dose 4 – 6 months after having your first booster dose.
Speak to your health worker about scheduling your next vaccination.
“Which COVID-19 vaccine can pregnant women get?”
Take all COVID-19 vaccine doses recommended by your health authority. You can find guidance on specific WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines here.
“Do pregnant women get side effects from COVID-19 vaccination?”
Like all medicines, vaccines can cause common side effects, whether you are pregnant or not.
Pregnant women have not reported any different side effects than non-pregnant women after being vaccinated against COVID-19.
Some of the common side effects that you could experience after COVID-19 vaccination, include:
Some pain, swelling and redness on the arm where you received the vaccine
Chills or mild fever
Joint pain or muscle ache.
Most side effects are mild and typically go away within a few days.
Rare severe side effects could include:
Severe allergic reaction
Wheezing, difficulties in breathing or shortness of breath.
Let a health worker know immediately if you experience any of these side effects.
Severe side effects are very rare. If they do happen, they are most likely to appear in the first 30 minutes after being vaccinated. This is why after being vaccinated you’ll need to stay in an observation area for 15-30 minutes to monitor your reaction to the vaccine. Staying in the observation area means qualified help is on hand in the unlikely event that you do experience any severe side effects or have an allergic reaction after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
>> More information on what to expect before, during and after COVID-19 vaccination.
“Can COVID-19 vaccines harm babies in the womb?”
No. The current evidence shows that vaccinating pregnant women against COVID-19 has no negative impact on their unborn babies. There is no increased risk of miscarrying your baby if you get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Can COVID-19 vaccines impact my fertility?”
No. There is no evidence at all that COVID-19 vaccines impact male or female fertility.
“What should I do if I get symptoms of COVID-19 while I am pregnant?”
If you become unwell with any of the symptoms of COVID-19 while pregnant (including with fever, cough or difficulty breathing), seek urgent medical advice from a health worker immediately and tell them that you are pregnant.
“I’m planning to get pregnant. Should I get vaccinated against COVID-19?”
Staying healthy is important to conceiving and having a safe pregnancy — and getting vaccinated against COVID-19 helps you stay healthy.
If you’re thinking about having a baby and are offered the COVID-19 vaccine, getting vaccinated is important to protect you and your current or future family. Talk to your health worker for more information.
WHO advises that:
You don’t need to take a pregnancy test before getting vaccinated for COVID-19.
You don’t need to delay getting pregnant because of COVID-19 vaccination.
You should still get vaccinated if you are on your period on the day of your vaccination appointment
“Can I breastfeed if I’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine?”
Yes. COVID-19 vaccination is safe for breastfeeding mothers and their babies.
WHO recommends that breastfeeding women get vaccinated as soon as vaccines are made available to them.
Vaccination protects you from getting severely ill from COVID-19, so you can keep caring for your baby. There is also evidence that getting vaccinated protects your baby against COVID-19 too — through antibodies in your breastmilk.
After getting vaccinated it’s important that you continue to breastfeed. Breastfeeding helps your baby grow strong and gives them lifelong health benefits. Breastfeeding also improves your health.
It is impossible for your baby to get COVID-19 from your vaccination. This is because none of the approved vaccines contain the live virus that causes COVID-19.
You can find more information on COVID-19, breastfeeding and vaccination here.
“Is it safe for me to go to routine health appointments when pregnant?”
Yes. If you’re pregnant it’s important that you continue to attend your routine pregnancy (antenatal) checkups — and post pregnancy (postnatal) checkups once your baby is here — to help keep you both safe.
When attending check-ups take steps to stay safe (wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance) and follow your local authority’s safety guidelines.
“If I have COVID-19, will I pass it to my baby?”
Transmission of the virus to your baby while they’re in the womb or during birth is possible, but very rare. Most babies won't develop COVID-19 disease, and those who develop symptoms tend to recover quickly.
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.
Babies can be infected after birth, so if you do get COVID-19, it is important for you and other caregivers to take all precautions to reduce the risks of passing the virus to the baby.
“Can I safely give birth in a hospital or health centre?”
The safest place to give birth depends on you, your situation, COVID-19 transmission in your local area and your local healthcare system.
Some healthcare facilities have different facilities where those with COVID-19 go in one entrance and other people in another. But in some situations, that’s not completely possible.
Speak to the health worker supporting you throughout your pregnancy and birth about how precautions are being taken from situation to situation and what they feel is the safest place for you to give birth.
“What precautions should I take during childbirth?”
COVID-19 protocols in health facilities may change when COVID-19 cases increase or decrease.
Speak to your health worker about what to expect when giving birth and the precautions you might have to follow during labour to help keep you, your baby and medical staff safe.
It is likely that you will:
Be tested for COVID-19 near the end of your pregnancy.
Have to wash your hands or sanitize them regularly.
Be allowed one person with you to support you, who will have to wear a mask and be tested for COVID-19 too.
You might have to wear a mask. All the health workers supporting you with your birth should be wearing masks.
If you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 when you go into labour you will have to take extra precautions. Talk to your health worker before your due date about all the possible scenarios.
On the day you go into labour, stay calm and follow the instructions of the health professionals. They are all there to support you through the process and are the best people to help keep you and your baby safe.
“How can I protect my mental health during pregnancy?”
Stress, fear and depression are common in pregnancy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone.
If you are feeling sad or worried, have lost your appetite, are unable to sleep well, can’t concentrate, don’t feel like yourself or feel like your emotions are out of control, seek help from your health worker.
The following steps can also help you feel calmer, more positive and in control:
Talk to friends and family about how you feel.
Accept that some things are beyond your control. Instead, focus on what you can change.
Try to find the time to do activities you enjoy.
Perform light exercises every day to lift your mood.
Get out into nature, if you can and there are safe spaces available. For example, where there’s no crowding and the risk of COVID-19 transmission is low.
Develop daily routines.
Perform breathing and relaxation exercises.
Eat home cooked meals that include lots of vegetables and fruits and are rich in iron and folic acid.
Drink lots of water.
Avoid using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
Get enough sleep. Pregnant women need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. During pregnancy, your body is more stressed than normal as it goes through physiological change and your baby grows. Sleep is important to “reset” your body for the next day.
Develop a sleep routine to help you get the amount of sleep your body needs. Go to bed at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
Switch off digital devices at least two hours before you go to bed.
Reduce the amount of news you watch and the time you spend on social media.
Get your news and information from trusted sources — your health worker, health provider, National Health Authority, WHO and UNICEF.
More information on COVID-19, pregnancy and childbirth can be found here.
This article was last updated on 23rd January 2023. It will continue to be updated to reflect the latest information.