Coronavirus and pregnancy: here's everything expectant and new mums need to know

Is there reason to panic?

coronavirus and pregnancy
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The coronavirus outbreak continues to cause chaos across the world, and the disease is now presenting a new fear, after the news that a newborn baby has become the youngest person to die from the virus.

As reported by Sky News, the six-week-old baby from Connecticut in the US, died this week after spending four weeks in intensive care due to coronavirus complications. It's not currently known whether they had any underlying health conditions.

While in the UK, it's been reported that the Prime Minister's pregnant fiancée, Carrie Symonds has been bedridden for the past week with symptoms of coronavirus. While Boris Johnson is in hospital and so separated from the mother-to-be, Carrie tweeted to say that she hadn't been tested yet but had begun to show symptoms of the virus since being in self-isolation.

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The news on coronavirus and pregnancy is undoubtedly concerning - but it needn't cause hysteria. If you are pregnant, it's understandable that you might feel worried about the health of your baby, and your own health while carrying your unborn child. And as such, it's even more natural to have plenty of questions about coronavirus if are pregnant.

MORE: Am I pregnant? Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy

But often, it can be difficult to fight your way through the panicked reports, worried social media commentary and misinformation to find the answers you really need.

So what do you need to know about coronavirus if you are expecting, or are a new mum? Should you be taking any specific precautions? Find out below...

Coronavirus and pregnancy: how to practise social distancing

On March 16 as reported by the BBC, the Prime Minister announced that those who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus should take the new precautionary measures particularly seriously.

Chief medical adviser Professor Christ Whitty said the group of people who should take “particular care to minimise their social contact” includes pregnant women. However, he added that there was "no evidence from other coronaviruses that makes us feel this is particularly dangerous to pregnant women, but infections and pregnancy are not a good combination in general."

This remains to be the case, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. They say, "Generally, pregnant women do not appear to be more likely to be seriously unwell than other healthy adults if they develop the new coronavirus. It is expected the large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu like symptoms."

Adding that along with not seeing family members, pregnant women should, "Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services."

Tips for social distancing yourself during pregnancy:

It's important to avoid the coronavirus especially during pregnancy, so here are the steps you can take to socially distance yourself while maintaining relationships and your mental health...

  • Stay at home

Part of the wider precautionary measures being encouraged by the government include working from home if you can and avoiding any non-essential travel. So if possible, stay indoors and if you're not yet on maternity leave, move the office to home.

  • But maintain contact

Social distancing can be lonely and while pregnant, it's important to be able to chat to people about how you're feeling. The government has expressly advised against gatherings with those you don't live with, whether inside or outside the home.

So instead, stay in contact with friends and family via phone calls, social media and even video chatting - with Skype, you won't have to miss a single coffee catch-up.

  • Order online

Whether it's a food shop, essentials or just a shopping trip for a treat - try to stay away from the high street. Instead order online from retailers like Tesco, Amazon. Even big brands like Superdrug deliver to your door. If you are self-isolating rather than social distancing, be sure to note your condition in the additional information box so the driver can take appropriate steps - like leaving your shopping at the door rather than knocking.

What are the risks of coronavirus?

As the disease is so new, and medical professionals are still working on figuring the coronavirus out.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, "We do not have information from published scientific reports about susceptibility of pregnant women to COVID-19."

But they did say, "Pregnant women experience [physical and immunity] changes which might make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19."

So in theory - perhaps. But there no evidence so far to prove this.

Is coronavirus particularly harmful for young babies or newborns?

Many reports of the coronavirus have focused on the fact that elderly people or those with pre-existing health conditions are most at risk when it comes to the disease.

So what about newborn babies?

Dr Jonas Nilsen, MD and co-founder of Practio, a travel vaccination and infectious disease advice specialist service reassures that, as far as limited evidence suggests - there isn't a particular risk to newborns. "So far, not a single death has been reported in children aged 0-9 years of age," he said. "This strongly indicates that the coronavirus is not dangerous to infants."

He continued, "There have been a limited number of case reports of, for example, preterm births in infants born to mothers with coronavirus. However, the case numbers are yet too low to be conclusive."

Coronavirus and pregnancy: Can you pass on coronavirus to your unborn child?

Unfortunately, there isn't a short answer to this question at the moment.

In general, mothers can pass on diseases to their unborn baby in the womb, either through the placenta, during birth, or during breastfeeding after birth. But when it comes to coronavirus specifically, things aren't quite that simple.

Dr Jonas explained that it is not yet clear whether mother's can pass on coronavirus (COVID-19) to their babies in the womb.

MORE: Coronavirus and schools: everything you need to know - plus how to talk to children about the health crisis

He said, "The coronavirus is mainly spread through respiratory droplets if you are in close contact with an infected person.

"It is still unknown whether a pregnant woman infected with the coronavirus can transmit the virus to her unborn baby both before, during and after delivery."

However, early research and evidence from infected people suggests that it's somewhat unlikely.

"So far, all cases of babies born to mothers infected with the coronavirus, although limited, have tested negative of the virus." Dr Jonas said.

Dr Aragona Giuseppe, GP and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor, also told GoodtoKnow, "It’s not yet been confirmed whether the virus can be passed from a mother to an unborn child, however initial research from China suggests that the virus cannot be contracted in the womb."

A small preliminary study of early cases of the virus, has also suggested that coronavirus is not transmitted during pregnancy. Nine women who had their disease, and had their baby's via cesarean section, did not pass it on to their children. However, it's important to remember that it was only a small study, so more research is needed.

Dr Jonas notes that there are similarities between the current coronavirus and the 2002-2004 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak. He said, "If you look back at SARS, no cases of transmission from mother to baby were reported either."

As such, Dr Aragona said that if your child were to get it at all, "It’s much more likely that the infection will be picked up after birth from contact with a carrier of the disease."

How can mothers protect themselves and their baby against the coronavirus?

Dr Aragona noted that, "Pregnant woman are more at risk to complications with these types of respiratory infections, so if you are pregnant it’s imperative to ensure you follow certain precautions and practice good hygiene."

So, just like all of us, expectant and new mums should be taking on board hygiene best practises to help protect against the disease, for them and any unborn children.

Dr Jonas advises mums should protect themselves from coronavirus by:

  • Frequent handwashing with soap and water
  • Covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and maintaining at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and people who may be coughing and sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, "as hands touch many surfaces and can easily be contaminated with the virus".
  • Avoid consumption of raw or undercooked animal products

Dr Aragona said that it's important to look after your health generally too, telling GoodtoKnow, "Eat well, drink fluids and try to keep your immune system healthy so that if infection occurs your body has a chance to fight it."

What to do if you are an expectant mum and notice symptoms of coronavirus

Dr Jonas explains that during pregnancy if you think you have the coronavirus, you shouldn't rush to a public medical facility, in order to contain the spread of the disease.

He said, If you have concerns about coronavirus and pregnancy and think you could have been infected, you should not go to a GP surgery, a pharmacy or a hospital.

"NHS 111 has an online coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and provide advice on what to do. Call them first."

The online service will ask you questions about where you've travelled to over the last few weeks, to try and assess your risk of having contracted the coronavirus.

Senior Digital Writer

Amy is Senior Digital Writer across Woman & Home, GoodTo and Woman, writing about everything from celebrity news to health, fashion and beauty features. When she isn't obsessing over the latest dress drop from Marks & Spencer, you'll most likely find Amy out running, or with a cup of tea in hand ready to dive into a gripping new Netflix series.