The coronavirus (COVID-19) first appeared in Wuhan, China in December 2019, and the first confirmed cases in Australia were reported in late January 2020. According to the World Health Organisation, there are currently over 98 million reported cases and over two million deaths globally since the start of the pandemic. Australia’s Department of Health reports that there have been over 28,000 cases and over 900 deaths as of the end of January 2021. This equates to a global mortality rate of 4 per cent compared to only 1.4 per cent in Australia.
The virus usually presents with a fever, cough, sore throat, headaches, fatigue, cough or a shortness of breath as well as range of other symptoms. Despite concern about the risks for pregnant women due to the suppression of the immune system, there is currently no evidence to suggest they have an increased risk of becoming infected with the virus. However, because this is a new virus, it is important to take all precautions, and these differ depending on the status of COVID-19 in each state, so see the relevant website/s for more information.
While there have been some cases overseas where the virus has been passed from mother to baby, the risk of transmission is understood to be low, and in all cases, babies with the virus have recovered well. The majority of pregnant women who are infected with COVID-19 will experience only mild or moderate symptoms.
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, ultrasounds, maternal and fetal assessments and routine antenatal investigations should continue as before. Routine influenza vaccinations and whooping cough vaccinations should also continue to be administered. How these are actioned will depend on the current regulations in each state.
There have also been concerns that the virus can cause premature delivery, miscarriages or affect how your baby develops in pregnancy, however there is also no evidence that they are directly related to COVID-19.
There is no evidence that the virus can be passed onto your baby in breast milk, so the benefits of breastfeeding and the protection it offers far outweigh any risks. However, if breastfeeding your baby, it is recommended you take a number of precautions. These include washing your hands prior to touching your baby, bottles or breast pumps; wearing a mask while feeding and holding your baby; and following the guidelines in terms of cleaning and sterilisation your breast pump and bottles. Expressing your milk is advised in severe cases.
Although there has been an increase in the caesarean section rate in COVID-19-positive pregnant women, there is also no evidence that this is necessary to reduce the risk of vertical transmission.
All in all, provided you follow the recommended precautions, maintain regular communication with your Obstetrician and continue to prioritise your physical, mental health and wellbeing, a good outcome can be expected.
Dr Terry Sheahan