Precautions to take when expecting during the pandemic
By Dr David Emvula
Specialist Obstetrician & Gynaecologist at OB-GYN Practice.
Pregnancy is a special period full of joy and anticipation. Unfortunately, for many expectant mothers, the COVID-19 pandemic has clouded this period with fear, anxiety and uncertainty.
Pregnant women do not appear more likely to contract the COVID-19 infection when compared to the general population. However, pregnancy puts you at higher risk of severe illness compared to people who are not pregnant and have higher rates of intensive care unit (ICU) admission; this is particularly true in the third trimester.
Emerging evidence suggest that pregnant women who tested positive for COVID-19 at the time of birth had higher rates of stillbirth or a preterm birth; however, the actual increases remain low. Firstly, if you find out you are pregnant, contact your obstetrician as soon as you can.
Antenatal care should be regarded as essential and women are encouraged to attend, while observing social distancing and infection prevention measures, as recommended by the government. If a women have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, they should go for testing. In an event that a pregnant woman has contracted the virus, she needs to consult with her doctor, this can be done telephonically to limit exposure.
The studies done before the first vaccines were approved for emergency use did not include pregnant women. But based on how the vaccines were made and the science behind how the vaccines work in the body, experts believe they should be safe in pregnancy. While research is still ongoing to understand the safety and effects of COVID-19 vaccination in pregnant women, the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women outweighs the theoretical potential risk the vaccine may pose. Considering the risk of severe COVID-19 in pregnancy, vaccination is highly recommended for all pregnant women and those planning pregnancy. A discussion with your Doctor can help you make an informed decision on the choice of the vaccine to take.
There are 3 potential mechanisms of maternal transfer of COVID-19 to the neonate, namely through the placenta, during birth and after birth. Transmission through the placenta appears less likely but there are case reports suggesting that this is possible. Exposure to maternal infected secretions around the time of birth makes transmission possible.
After birth, transmission occurs from an infected mother, family member, or health care worker. Transmission from an infected mother is more likely from respiratory secretions and less likely from breast milk. It is best during this time to stay isolated from many other family and friends to avoid any risk and exposure to you and your baby.
It is recommended that breastfeeding women get a COVID-19 vaccine. Breastfeeding can continue after vaccination and remains one of the best ways to protect your child from diseases and to help them stay healthy.
In conclusion, becoming pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic is a matter of personal choice, however it is wise to consider the impact this may have on your health. In the absence of any effective treatment for COVID-19, vaccination is the only hope. Importantly, claims linking COVID-19 vaccines to infertility are unfounded and have no scientific evidence supporting them.