Government leaders across the world are continuing to issue guidelines to keep people safe from COVID-19. In the U.K., where 71 people have died from the virus as of March 18, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that pregnant women should stay at home for 12 weeks to avoid exposure and infection.
This puts pregnant women on the “at-risk” list, along with those over 70 years old and those with pre-existing health conditions that put them at increased risk of serious complications from the coronavirus.
The U.K. government’s chief medical adviser, Professor Chris Whitty, said the new guidance was “absolutely critical.” However, he added that the inclusion of pregnant women on the at-risk list was a “precautionary measure” because limited evidence suggests that there are no COVID-19-related complications in pregnancy.
A recent study published in The Lancet found that of the nine pregnant women who had tested positive for the new coronavirus in Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the outbreak — there was no evidence of the virus in the moms’ breastmilk, cord blood or amniotic fluid. In each case, at the time of birth (via cesarean) all infants were healthy.
Clearly, the U.K. — the only country to officially include pregnant women on its “at risk” group — is erring on the side of caution. “We are early in our understanding and we want to be sure,” Professor Whitty said, per the BBC.
“Infections and pregnancy are not a good combination in general and that is why we have taken the very precautionary measure while we try and find out more,” he added.
The U.K.’s Royal College of Midwives has urged expectant moms to continue to attend their prenatal appointments, stating that these are necessary for ensuring that the pregnant mothers are healthy and their pregnancies are progressing well. The BBC also shared a reassuring quote from Dr. Gaurav Gupta for pregnant women who are worried about contracting the virus in hospitals or clinics, in which Gupta insists that hospitals “can actually be a place of safety.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says they still don’t know if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public, nor whether they are more likely to get seriously ill as a result.
Guidelines on the CDC website state, “Pregnant women experience changes in their bodies that may increase their risk of some infections. With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses.”
The situation is similarly unclear in relation to COVID-19 causing problems for a pregnancy and the virus being passed from the mother to the fetus. According to the CDC, “there have been a small number of reported problems with pregnancy or delivery (e.g. preterm birth) in babies born to mothers who tested positive for COVID-19 during their pregnancy.”
But experts don’t know for sure that those outcomes were due to maternal infection.
If you’re pregnant and worried about the coronavirus, speak to your primary care doctor, midwife and OB-GYN. Continue to follow the CDC’s guidelines in relation to hygiene and social contact, and if you do display any symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough or shortness of breath), seek medical advice.