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What do pregnant women need to know about COVID-19?

Written By: Simone Sonnier, UT Physicians | Updated: March 22, 2020
Pregnant woman, National Birth Defects Prevention Month

While not all birth defects can be prevented, these tips can put you on the right track for a healthy pregnancy.

Pregnancy can be an exciting time. However, being pregnant during a pandemic is understandably a little concerning. Experts say the information regarding pregnancy and COVID-19 is minimal, but that doesn’t mean there is a major cause for concern.

Sean C. Blackwell, MD
Sean C. Blackwell, MD

“We do not have robust data regarding the effects of coronavirus infection during pregnancy; but available scientific information suggest the risks of pneumonia, respiratory failure, or sepsis in pregnant women is very low,” said Sean Blackwell, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at UT Physicians and chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

To minimize the risk of exposure, pregnant women should practice the same precautions as the rest of the public including covering coughs, avoiding those who appear ill, and keeping hands clean by using soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer.

Social distancing, staying away from large crowds, and avoiding sick contacts are important steps. Pregnant women should avoid hospitals, medical office buildings, and even their own doctor’s office unless it’s an essential visit.

“If a pregnant woman develops flu-like symptoms, we are urging her to not just show up at her doctor’s office or hospital. She should call her health care providers and get information and direction over the phone. This will allow the health care provider to get key information and triage the severity of the situation and then guide the patient for home treatment or to come in for an evaluation. Most of the time, it will be safer for a pregnant woman to get supportive therapy at home. Coming into the office/clinic or hospital unnecessarily may actually increase the risks,” said Blackwell, who’s also the director of the Larry C. Gilstrap, MD, Center for Perinatal and Women’s Health Research at UTHealth.

Should a pregnant woman need to come into her physician’s office for an evaluation, the office staff will give her a mask, isolate her from other patients, and use personal protective equipment when caring for her. By performing these precautions, both the patient and the health care worker are protected.

For women who may go into labor during this outbreak, rest assured that health care organizations are taking extra steps to protect individual patients, health care workers, family, and friends. Currently, the majority of hospitals are restricting the number of guests allowed for a delivery to best protect the mother, baby, and everyone else.

While there is still little evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be passed on from a mom to a baby, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do recommend mother/baby separation until the mother’s status is cleared.

If a mother and baby are separated, breastfeeding is not allowed. However, the mother can still pump and save her breast milk. There is still limited information regarding the virus and breast milk, but the overall risk appears to be low.

For more information regarding pregnancy and COVID-19, visit the CDC website. Visit our information center for additional facts and resources regarding the virus.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.