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COVID and Pregnancy: Risks, Vaccines and Breastfeeding

Pregnant woman wearing a striped shirt and holding her belly

If you’re pregnant, you’re likely concerned about how COVID-19 can affect the health of you and your baby. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the virus, including COVID-19 vaccination and how to help keep you and your baby safe.

Am I at an increased risk for getting coronavirus while pregnant?

COVID-19 leads to a respiratory illness that can be spread from person to person, and pregnant women should be considered an at-risk population for the illness, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

While recent data does not show that pregnant women are at increased risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, when you’re pregnant, your body goes through changes that may increase your risk of some infections. Consequently, pregnant patients with COVID-19 are three times more likely to need ICU care and two to three times more likely to need advanced life support and a breathing tube.

If you are pregnant, it’s important to protect yourself from illnesses, as well as continue to see your provider for routine prenatal care and testing. However, if you have flu and cold symptoms and suspect it may be the coronavirus (COVID-19), call your provider’s office before going in for care.

If I have COVID-19 during pregnancy, will it hurt my baby?

Preterm birth and other adverse infant outcomes have been reported in mothers who tested positive for COVID-19 during pregnancy. However, this information is based on limited data, and it is not clear if these outcomes were related to the mother’s infection. 

Transmission of COVID-19 across the placenta to the unborn child appears to be rare. The virus also was not found in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How can I protect myself from getting COVID-19 while pregnant?

If you’re pregnant, you should do the same things as the general public to avoid infection. The best way to prevent illness is to do the following:

  • Practice “social distancing”: Avoid all gatherings with large numbers of people.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

Should I receive the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy?

The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and other pregnancy experts recommend COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant and lactating people. The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine recently issued the following guidelines for pregnant patients:

  • The vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 disease, especially severe illness and death. 
  • Vaccination during pregnancy may help transfer protective antibodies to the baby through the placenta and breastmilk. These antibodies may lower the chance of the baby getting the COVID-19 disease.
  • More than139,000 people have received a COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy. No safety concerns have been reported for vaccinated pregnant people or their babies.
  • Of 800 pregnant people vaccinated in the first trimester, there have been no increased risks of pregnancy loss, growth problems, or birth defects compared with pregnant people who were not vaccinated. No problems have been reported in those vaccinated later in pregnancy.
  • You can’t get COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccines.

Can you continue your usual work during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

If you have essential employment responsibilities, you may continue to work. For example, pregnant women who work in health care should follow the same risk assessment and infection control guidelines for all health care workers  exposed to patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Pregnant health care workers may continue to provide patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, facilities may want to consider limiting exposure of health care staff who are pregnant to patients to confirmed or suspected COVID-19, especially during higher risk procedures (e.g., aerosol-generating procedures) if possible, based on staffing availability.

Can you transmit COVID-19 through breast milk?

Currently, experts believe that the person-to-person spread of COVID-19 happens when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes — similarly to how the flu and other respiratory viruses spread.

Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most infants. You should work with your doctor to make the personal decision of whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding.

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the CDC recommends the following precautions to avoid spreading the virus to your infant:

  • Wash your hands before touching your baby.
  • Wear a facemask, if possible, while breastfeeding.
  • Wash your hands before touching or expressing breast milk with breast pump, and make sure your pump is clean before and after each use.
  • If possible, consider having someone who is not sick feed your expressed breast milk to your baby.

Learn more about COVID-19 and Penn Medicine’s response to the virus >

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