It’s usually said you become a mother the moment you find out you’re pregnant. Sometimes, before knowing about the new pregnancy, your body starts to send you messages that make you change your behavior and start to look after yourself even better.
Most pregnant women will do everything possible to protect their unborn babies. For the overwhelming majority of expectant mothers, to experience a severe illness like the Covid-19 virus is a terrifying experience.
Coronavirus and pregnancy – my story
Since I started writing for BellyBelly, all my articles have been driven by my expertise and professional experience as a healthcare provider. This time my approach will be much more personal.
I’m a midwife and a mother. I’m pregnant with my third baby and I’ve experienced infection with the Covid-19 virus during the second trimester of my pregnancy.
When the world was struck down by the Covid-19 pandemic, I chose to isolate myself emotionally from the news and everything related to it. This was my coping mechanism. I chose not to follow the news, nor actively search for data.
I made a decision to protect myself and my children from Covid-19 as much as possible, especially from the mental impact it could have on us. Of course, we followed the government advice about disease control but we tried to keep it as far from our lives as possible. We felt it was already bad enough without spending our free time dwelling on it.
Was that wise? I don’t know. It was just what our family did.
After a couple of years of talking about the possibility of having another child, we agreed that we’d just keep our sexual life as before but we would stop actively avoiding pregnancy. I fell pregnant a few weeks after that.
We had just recently moved to the Caribbean and this was the best possible news.
You can follow my pregnancy week by week in Irene’s Pregnancy Journal
Does Covid-19 affect pregnancy?
Research depends on several parameters. This illness has not yet been among us for a long period of time. Also, the vast majority of the research has been focused on developing vaccines and treatments. For these reasons, it is still early days for studies to have been done on pregnant women with Covid-19.
The available evidence isn’t robust yet. The vast majority of studies about pregnancy and Covid-19 have been done by comparing data from pregnant women with and without the virus, and the samples used have been quite small.
Women aren’t at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19 because they’re pregnant. The chances of a pregnant woman testing positive are the same as anybody else’s.
Overall, the chance of anyone becoming seriously unwell from Covid-19 infection is small: less than 5% of the population.
In most cases, pregnant women are placed in the ‘moderate risk groups’ as a precaution, just because it’s a new virus and it’s wise to be cautious about it.
We need to bear in mind the Covid-19 pandemic is seriously affecting the general population’s mental health. Around the world, there have been extended lockdowns, separation from family and loved ones, and constant media exposure to negative and often devastating news about the pandemic.
Pregnant women have been forced to change their birth plans. This means they are starting their journey as mothers in isolation, without support, and with a great deal of stress.
This can mean an increased risk of perinatal anxiety and depression. It’s very important that mental health support for pregnant women and their families is strengthened.
In my particular case, protecting my family’s mental health was the main reason we isolated ourselves as much as possible from the news about Covid-19.
Pregnant and Covid positive
If a pregnant woman has tested positive for Covid-19, she should follow the guidance of the disease control governing body in her country.
In most cases this would mean self-isolating, getting family members tested, contacting healthcare providers, and following their advice.
Testing positive simply means the virus is present in your body. Many people will be asymptomatic or have very mild coronavirus symptoms. If this is true in your case, you might welcome the time to connect with your baby, rest, do activities you enjoy by yourself – such as reading or painting – or maybe learn a new craft skill and make something for your baby during this time.
Of course, if you feel your symptoms aren’t mild, or if you have any underlying medical conditions, make sure you contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
The sooner you get medical advice, the better; that way, you can get early treatment and avoid any pregnancy complications.
Pregnant with Covid symptoms and effects
Covid symptoms vary greatly from one person to another. There’s no scientific evidence that pregnancy affects the severity of symptoms.
Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Loss of smell or taste.
- Sore throat
- Aches and pains
- A rash on the skin, or discoloration of fingers or toes
- Red or irritated eyes.
Severe symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Loss of speech or mobility
- Chest pain
- High fever.
If you experience any of the severe symptoms, or your symptoms keep increasing, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Even if you’ve tested positive for Covid-19 and your symptoms are not too bad, call your health care provider immediately if you notice any changes in your baby’s usual pattern of movements, you can’t feel your baby move, you experience any bleeding, or if you feel anxious or worried.
In my particular case, it took me a long time even to suspect I had Covid-19. I was tired for no apparent reason and I had a strange cough that only affected me at night. There was discomfort behind my eyes and a constant dull pain in my sacrum. I also woke up with panic attacks and shortness of breath that would resolve when I was finally completely awake. I had suffered this since my early twenties and I didn’t really give it special thought.
I thought all these symptoms were due to being pregnant and tired, and having traveled to an area with a different climate. I had also experienced problems with my pelvis previously, and I assumed my growing baby was the cause of this discomfort.
Of course, I wasn’t completely isolated from the world, and I believed the symptoms associated with Covid-19 were the severe symptoms that caused people to go into hospital. My symptoms were quite mild and I never considered those I was experiencing were coronavirus symptoms.
Pregnant women with Covid – risks
Having a coronavirus infection during pregnancy carries different health risks, depending on the stage of pregnancy the woman is at.
Covid and pregnancy: first trimester
Finding out you have Covid-19 a short while after finding out you’re pregnant can be very daunting and scary.
The risk of miscarriage is greater in the first trimester of pregnancy, but this is unrelated to Covid-19 infection. The first trimester is usually the time when most unviable pregnancies miscarry.
This cohort study looked at first trimester miscarriages in women who had coronavirus disease and compared them with those who didn’t. They found being infected with coronavirus didn’t affect pregnancy loss.
Covid and pregnancy: second trimester
If you contract a Covid-19 infection in the second trimester of pregnancy, as I did, and your symptoms are quite vague, as mine were, the obvious signs can be easily missed and blamed on something else.
Usually, the second trimester of pregnancy is considered the easiest one, as most of the pregnancy symptoms have eased off and the size of your belly is still quite manageable.
Make sure you seek advice from your medical provider if you aren’t feeling well, or if you experience non-pregnancy related symptoms.
Covid and pregnancy: third trimester
If you get Covid in the last trimester of pregnancy, you might worry about how it will affect you and your baby – especially if it happens close to your due date.
Pregnant women have an increased risk of developing complications and this is especially true if they are black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME), as this study suggests. Pregnant women who are already at high risk of other complications are also more likely to become severely ill with Covid.
Studies have shown babies born while the mother had coronavirus weren’t at higher risk of developing severe outcomes, such as a neonatal early-onset infection.
Respiratory symptoms in babies born to infected mothers, and other poor pregnancy outcomes, could not be blamed on maternal Covid infection, as there were other factors involved, such as a significant rise in c-section deliveries that increases the baby’s overall risk of complications.
While more research is conducted on this severe illness, we must be extra cautious, and poor pregnancy outcomes must be closely monitored.
Make sure you’re in close communication with your healthcare provider if you test positive, you suspect you’re infected with coronavirus, you feel unwell, or your symptoms increase. It’s extremely important to receive the right treatment as soon as possible, to avoid becoming severely ill.
Pregnant with Covid – treatment
The treatment a pregnant woman will get if she experiences Covid-19 infection will substantially depend on her symptoms and how the illness is affecting her.
Healthcare professionals will always take into consideration a pregnant woman’s different needs and will always be mindful of how the treatment used might affect the unborn baby. If the treatment required in severe cases is likely to affect the unborn child, the healthcare professionals will do everything possible to protect the mother and baby. In the case of a drastic decision, this will always protect the mother’s life over the baby’s.
Treatment for pregnant women with mild cases of Covid should be focused on minimizing their symptoms: resting, keeping hydrated, eating well, and being well looked after.
For pregnant women with Covid who need to be hospitalized, their medical care will depend on the severity of the symptoms, as respiratory viruses can be quite aggressive. In some cases, supportive care might include oxygen therapy, corticoids, and antiviral treatment for the most severe cases.
The threshold for pregnant women to be admitted to the intensive care unit will be lower in many hospitals, as an extra precaution and with the intention of monitoring mother and baby’s wellbeing more closely. Disease control is also more stringent, to avoid infecting others. Be mindful of your hospital’s protocols for support people, visitors, etc.
I’m pregnant with Covid-19: what can I take?
When women are pregnant, they and their healthcare professionals are very wary about any medical treatment given as it might cross the placental barrier and affect the unborn baby.
Natural remedies that boost the immune system are always the first choice when treating pregnant women.
Some of these are:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Garlic and ginger infusions.
I took all these during my illness. I also took paracetamol for the first couple of days to treat the pain in my sacrum but I stopped taking it as I found it offered no relief at all.
I consulted a homeopath and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, who gave me a homeopathic treatment combined with moxibustion in my sacrum; it really made a difference to my symptoms.
Seek advice from your healthcare providers about what treatments and remedies are safe for you to use. If your symptoms aren’t being alleviated, they can provide personalized advice, taking into account how the symptoms are affecting you, as well as your risk factors, and the stage of pregnancy you’re at.
There are many different trends with regard to the treatment of this illness. If you aren’t happy with the approach your health care provider takes, always look for a different opinion.
Is it safe to get a Covid test when pregnant?
Covid testing is easy and non-invasive, so it won’t cause complications for your pregnancy. Whether you take a rapid antigen test (RAT) or a PCR test, the specimen collection method is very similar. It consists of taking a nasal or throat swab. This might be uncomfortable for some, especially if someone else is taking the swab.
Find out in advance if you can choose whether the swab is taken from your nose or your throat, and whether this is something you can do yourself under the professional’s guidance. If you haven’t been able to get this information prior to being tested, make sure you inform the person who is going to carry out the test about your feelings about having the test done.
Is breastfeeding recommended during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Breastfeeding has many proven benefits for babies. One of the many benefits of breast milk is to help newborn babies build up their immune systems. Most newborns will highly benefit from being breastfed from birth.
Because breastfeeding protects newborn infants from illnesses it can also offer protection against Covid-19 infection.
The World Health Organization recommends women with Covid-19 should start or continue to breastfeed their babies.
Breastfeeding will not only protect the baby against the infection by building up his immune system. If the mother has had Covid-19, her antibodies will be passed to her baby via her breast milk.
At the same time, the composition of breast milk changes constantly, as it adapts to the baby’s needs. When the mother is in close contact with her baby and kisses him, she’s not only loving and emotionally nurturing her little one but she’s also taking samples of all the microorganisms on the baby’s skin. This information will travel to her brain, which will then send the message to the breasts to fill up her milk with the best immune response, adapted to the baby’s needs.
You can read more about this in Breastfeeding With (Coronavirus) Covid-19 | Symptoms, Risks And Effects.
Postpartum care should be very individualized, taking into consideration the mother and baby’s specific needs. If mother or baby is severely ill and they’re not together in the same care unit, providing breast milk to the baby would be extremely beneficial. If the severity of their condition doesn’t allow close contact for breastfeeding to happen at that moment, expressed breast milk (obtained via hand or a breast pump) should be given to the baby until breastfeeding can be properly established.
You can read more about this in 6 Different Ways To Feed Your Baby Expressed Breast Milk.