Pregnancy and having a baby should be a time of great joy and togetherness for families. But if you are pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is natural to be worried about the impact of the virus 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 healthcare 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, such as 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. It is important to:

  • Wash your hands regularly, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You don't have to use 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.

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 as 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 COVID-19 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, which means you can still feed your baby breast milk when you have COVID-19. As more information about the risks becomes available, medical advice may change.

What are maternity healthcare workers doing to protect mothers and babies?

Maternity healthcare workers are doing everything they can to keep mothers and babies safe during this challenging time. This includes increased hygiene measures and personal protective equipment such as face masks. Some of your antenatal consultations might also be via telephone or video, rather than in person, to limit possible exposure. This is to protect you, your loved ones, and your healthcare providers.

Obstetricians and midwives are very conscious of the concerns that pregnant women and their partners have about their care at this time. Watch a special message of support from Australian obstetricians to all pregnant women and their families.

Other helpful links

Find out more about reducing your risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy.

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 Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. She is an investigator on the Australian COVID-19 Pregnancy Registry.