Coronavirus and pregnancy: Here’s what you need to know

pregnancy, coronavirus

While there is no need to panic, it is advisable that pregnant women follow the instructions that are being issued to the public. (Source: Getty Images)

As the world grapples to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, it also attempts to quell people's panic-stricken questions. There is a lot of confusion which is sending people into a state of tizzy. Which is why doctors and researchers are working against the clock to come up with answers so people do not unnecessarily panic. Among other things, pregnancy is raising some concerns, because people are not sure how to deal with it, given the current situation. Should a pregnant woman be tested just to be sure the baby is safe? Should she travel? Should she self-isolate herself? To get the answers to these and other such questions, reached out to a doctor. And here's what Dr Seema Sharma, a senior consultant gynecologist at Cloudnine Hospital, Chandigarh had to say. Excerpts:

What is the first thing that a pregnant woman should know about coronavirus?

The first thing they should know is that pregnancy, per se, does not predispose them to increased chances of getting the infection. We may feel that because pregnancy is a changed state of hormones, a pregnant woman would be more prone to the infection. But, the answer is no. A pregnant woman is as prone as any other adult human being. But, it should be known that if she gets infected, the severity of the infection will be more, because of the immuno-compromised state during pregnancy. But, that holds true for all kinds of viral infections.

Also, if a pregnant woman has gestational diabetes, or say asthma, the severity of the coronavirus infection (if infected) will be more.

Is there any risk to the fetus in that case?

Since the infection is a new one, and all the data that we have is from China -- where nearly 170 pregnant women contracted the infection -- we can say, based on evidence, that there isn't any to suggest that there is vertical transmission of the infection to the baby; meaning, in utero. The unborn baby is unlikely to get infected like this.

pregnancy, coronavirus

There is no data to suggest that the virus is transmitted via breast milk. (Source: Getty Images)

Should a pregnant woman get tested, just to be on the safe side?

While there is no need to panic, it is advisable that pregnant women follow the instructions that are being issued to the public. For instance, they can avoid unnecessary travelling, and stay indoors instead. If any pregnant woman shows symptoms of any mild upper respiratory infection, like runny nose, fever and dry cough, they need to self-isolate, so they do not transmit it to the rest of the family. They also need to watch out for breathlessness, any high-grade fever, pain in the chest, or any other such symptoms.

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Tests are essentially recommended for people who show severe symptoms. Majority of the infections are self-limiting and heal on their own, so we do not want people to panic. But yes, if the condition of a person is serious, we have to run some tests. And then there are some specified centres that conduct screening. So anyone can go and get themselves screened, but diagnostic tests are not warranted for everybody.

What if a pregnant woman has to travel?

Then she has to take necessary precautions. She has to have a medical insurance in place in case of an international travel. God forbid, if someone gets infected and needs a delivery, the medical insurance needs to be taken care of. Other than that, she has to be guarded, especially when sitting next to someone who is coughing or sneezing. Healthy people do not need to wear masks, but they do need to wash their hands often. And they need to be careful about not touching their face or their eyes. Using a hand sanitizer is also recommended.

And what about the postnatal stage when a woman is breastfeeding?

So far, there is enough evidence to say that even if a mother is tested positive, there is no contraindication to breastfeeding, because the two-week isolation of the baby from the mother will do more harm than good. A baby's immunity is bolstered by breastfeeding, which is why it is encouraged for all mothers - whether they are suspected or proven corona-positive.

Unless the mother is serious, she should breastfeed. She must, however, wear a mask and limit the touch. She can express the breast milk and an attendant can feed the baby, so as to minimise contact. There is no data to suggest that the virus is transmitted via breast milk.