Close up of a man hugging a pregnant woman

Pregnancy, while an exciting time in life, can also be cause for great concern during a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Understandably, expectant parents find themselves asking lots of questions: What would happen to mom and baby if mom becomes infected? Would there be long-term effects? Are vaccines safe for an expectant mom and her unborn child?

Increased COVID-19 Risks During Pregnancy

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that although the overall risks are low, women who are pregnant or were recently pregnant have a higher risk of a serious COVID-19 infection.

In addition, women who have COVID-19 during pregnancy are at increased risk for preterm birth, stillbirth and other potential pregnancy complications.

Pregnancy causes bodily changes that can make women more vulnerable to severe illness from respiratory viruses like COVID-19. Other factors that can increase women's risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19 during or recently after pregnancy include:

  • Being over age 25
  • Living or working somewhere with a high number of COVID-19 cases and/or low vaccination rates
  • Underlying medical conditions (e.g., heart problems; obesity; and chronic liver, lung and kidney diseases)

COVID-19 Vaccine and Safety During Pregnancy

COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant, or may become pregnant in the future. Pregnant women should also receive a booster shot.

Growing evidence regarding the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines suggests the benefits of receiving a vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks during pregnancy, according to the CDC. Currently, there is no evidence that the vaccines cause fertility problems in women or men.

It is important to know that the vaccines do not cause COVID-19 infection, including in pregnant women or their babies. Speak with your doctor if you have any additional questions or concerns about vaccines, booster shots and taking care of yourself and your baby.

You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after either your second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or your single-dose shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Even once you are fully vaccinated, and especially if you are not vaccinated, continue to take standard precautions to protect from COVID-19 and COVID variants, including wearing a mask in indoor public spaces.

If you are pregnant and think you may have COVID-19, notify your healthcare provider and/or call your local Health Department and follow their advice.

Find answers to questions about delivering your baby at an UMMS hospital during the pandemic. 

Prenatal Appointments

A healthy mom is essential for a healthy baby, so be sure to get the care you need. Make sure to keep all your doctor's appointments during and after your pregnancy. If you have concerns about in-person appointments, ask about virtual visits. Do not delay emergency care, even if you have concerns about COVID-19.

Practicing social distancing may be more difficult during required in-person prenatal visits. If you are sick, you should reschedule your prenatal appointment.

A good alternative is virtual appointments, if available through the provider. The University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) offers many options for telemedicine appointments, which are ideal for:

  • Virtual prenatal visits
  • At-home monitoring (weight, blood pressure, fetal heart rate, blood sugar, etc.)
  • Consultation with specialists (such as maternal-fetal providers and genetic counselors)
  • Online communication with providers
  • Mental health care
  • Virtual postpartum visits and lactation support

UMMS encourages all patients to use the MyPortfolio patient portal to communicate with their providers online.

Giving Birth

Even under the best of circumstance, uncertainty in regard to the childbirth experience can cause anxiety for expectant parents. During the pandemic, unfortunately there is no way to know what the specific circumstance will be at the time of delivery.

What we do know is that hospitals, including all UMMS facilities, are taking special precautions to keep patients safe.

Visitor restrictions are in place to protect patients. We highly recommend checking the visitation policy for the hospital at you plan to give birth. Your birth plan may have to be altered to accommodate a tighter policy.

Additionally, most hospitals use negative pressure rooms for contagious patients, which will keep other patients safer. Hospital staff have been trained to take proper precautions while treating patients.

Passing the Virus to the Baby

Though we are still learning about the effects of COVID-19 on newborns, the CDC says current evidence suggests that the chance of a newborn getting COVID-19 from their birth mom is low, especially when the mom takes steps to prevent getting the virus before and during newborn care.

Most newborns of moms who had COVID-19 during pregnancy do not have the virus when they are born. There are some who have tested positive after birth, but it is not known if they got the virus before, during or after birth. Most newborns who tested positive for COVID-19 had mild or no symptoms and recovered.

Ask your doctor about specific precautions you should take if you get COVID-19 while caring for your baby.

The Virus and Breastmilk

Current evidence suggests that breast milk is not likely to spread the virus to babies. If you have COVID-19 and choose to breastfeed, wash your hands beforehand. Also, wear a mask while breastfeeding and whenever you are within six feet of your baby.

Per the CDC, some reports have shown that breastfeeding women who have received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine have antibodies in their breastmilk that could help protect their babies, though more data are needed to determine what level of protection the antibodies may provide.

Updated 12/21/2021

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