Pregnant women aren’t more likely to contract COVID-19, case studies show, but they may be more likely to have fatal complications during childbirth as COVID-19 limits medical resources.
COVID-19 patients are dominating hospital space and health services, leaving fewer resources for pregnant women and infants. Childbirth requires immediate, often intense medical attention, and mothers are facing challenges with restricted traveling, lockdowns, reduced supplies, and health professionals’ crowded schedules. The fear of contracting COVID-19 at a medical care facility may also deter women from seeking the care they need.
Much of the current data on contracting COVID-19 is still uncertain, and studies aren’t clear on whether newborns can be infected during birth. While mothers with COVID-19 in the United States are giving birth to uninfected children, case studies in China and India suggest that transmission to infants through the birth canal may be possible. In any case, the CDC recommends that pregnant women be especially cautious of COVID-19, because pregnancy can compromise their immune systems and place them at high risk of viral infections.
Deaths related to childbirth complications are already a serious problem, especially in developing countries, and the mortality rate is only estimated to increase under COVID-19. Millions of women who were unable to afford or access maternal healthcare before the pandemic now have even less chance of healthy pregnancies.
There’s no way to accurately predict the overall impact of COVID-19 on maternal health, as the pandemic remains a constantly changing frontier. Scientists recommend a variety of healthcare practices to better serve pregnant women and newborns during this stressful time. Limiting in-person time spent in health facilities can reduce the risk of pregnant women becoming infected; many clinics offer services over phone or video calls, and doctors and patients are encouraged to wear masks at all times. Governments and agencies should listen to the input of maternal healthcare professionals when making important policy decisions, as well as providing doctors and patients with all available and relevant information. Childbirth units should be carefully sanitized and monitored for developing infections before and during patient visits. In the case that infected pregnant women need to be quarantined outside hospitals, healthcare professionals need proper training and travel resources in order to provide emergency services and conduct home births.
It’s important to remember that maternal health complications and limited resources won’t go away with the pandemic, and the health of mothers and their babies should be a constant focal point in public health.