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Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and the Coronavirus: What We Know

Pregnant woman wearing a striped shirt and holding her belly

If you’re pregnant, you’re likely concerned about how COVID-19, an infection caused by a novel coronavirus, can affect the health of you and your baby. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the virus, including 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.

With other viral respiratory infections, such as the flu, pregnant women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness.

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.

It is also unclear if COVID-19 can cross through placenta and infect an unborn child. In a recent (limited) study of infants born to mothers who had COVID-19, none of the infants tested positive for COVID-19, according to ACOG. 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.

Get more answers to frequently asked questions on how to protect yourself from the novel coronavirus >

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

Pregnant women with nonessential employment responsibilities should remain at home, similarly to all other adults, according to local guidelines.

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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