Pregnancy and having a baby should be a time of great joy and togetherness for families. But if you are pregnant during the current COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, it is natural to be worried about the impact of coronavirus on your health and the health of your unborn baby. You may also be worried about the impact of the pandemic on the health care that you will receive during pregnancy and when you give birth. 

Fortunately, we live in a country with excellent health care and resources. It is important to remember that the vast majority of women will have a healthy, happy outcome to their pregnancy during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Are pregnant women at higher risk of severe COVID-19?

The most common symptoms reported in pregnant women are similar to those in non-pregnant adults – fever, cough and shortness of breath.  The good news is that pregnant women do not seem to be at greater risk of severe COVID-19 disease than other adults. Although we have only a small amount of information about pregnant women and COVID-19, it appears less dangerous than past epidemics such as SARS or the Middle Eastern Respiratory syndrome (MERS). However, extra caution is always best, so while you are pregnant follow the advice of health authorities carefully. 

How do I reduce my risk of COVID-19?

Simple hygiene and physical distancing measures can help to protect you from COVID-19 and prevent its spread.

•    Wash your hands regularly. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You don't have to have hand sanitizer, but it is useful for situations where you don't have access to soap and water
•    Wash your hands after going to the toilet, before touching food, after being out in public, after being around sick people, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
•    Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or cough or sneeze into your elbow. If you've used a tissue, put it into a bin and wash your hands afterwards
•    Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth  
•    Where possible, stay at least two metres away from anyone who's sneezing or coughing
•    Observe all government rules on physical distancing  

Should I still get the flu vaccination during pregnancy?

Yes! It is especially important to protect yourself from catching influenza during this time. All pregnant women should have the flu vaccine, this will help protect both you and your newborn baby from serious illness. You should also have your whooping cough booster during pregnancy to protect your baby.

Will the coronavirus harm my baby if I get infected during pregnancy?

The Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 does not appear to cause birth malformations or other specific problems for babies. Of the women who have had COVID-19 in late pregnancy, none of their babies tested positive for infection at the time of birth.  Some unwell mothers did give birth prematurely, but this was due to a variety of factors, including other pregnancy-related complications. Researchers around the world are actively working together to collect information on outcomes for mothers and babies so that doctors are better informed when providing care and advice. 

Are women with COVID-19 separated from their babies at birth?

Currently in Australia, babies are not automatically separated from mothers with COVID-19 if the mothers are well. Precautions are taken to reduce the risk of the mother passing on infection, such as the mother wearing a mask while feeding her baby. The virus has not been detected in breast milk, so you can still feed your baby breast milk. As more information about the risks become available, medical advice may change.

What are maternity health care workers doing to protect mothers and babies?

Maternity health care workers are doing everything they can to keep mothers and babies safe during this challenging time. This includes temperature measurements and screening for all hospital visitors and staff, and increased hygiene measures. Hospital visitor rules have changed reduce the number of people coming in and out– this is to protect you, your loved ones, and your health care providers.  

You may have already noticed big changes to your antenatal care. Some of your antenatal consultations might be via telephone or video, rather than in person. You may have been told that your partner cannot come to your antenatal visits or ultrasound scans, and that you may only have one support person with you during the birth of your baby.  Obstetricians and midwives are very conscious of the concerns that pregnant women and their partners have about their care at this time. A special message of support from Australian obstetricians to all pregnant women and their families can be viewed here

How can I deal with my anxiety about the coronavirus?  

Feelings of anxiety and fear are normal in this current situation. A short video with practical tips on how to manage feelings of anxiety during the epidemic is available here

Information about how mindfulness can help is available here

Other helpful links

For more information on reducing your risks during pregnancy, see the Raising Children Network

Where can I get more information? Raising Children Network: A family guide to COVID-19

Author: Associate Professor Lisa Hui is an obstetrician and maternal fetal medicine specialist with special interests in prenatal diagnosis and perinatal infections. She works at the Mercy Hospital for Women and the Northern Hospital, and is a research fellow at the University of Melbourne and the MCRI. She is an investigator on the newly-established Australian COVID-19 Pregnancy Registry.