Pregnancy and COVID-19: What Should Women Do?

Dani Milton
March 20, 2020

As an expectant mom, you try to provide the safest, most nurturing environment for a newborn infant. You search for products to childproof your home and the best car seats to protect your child on the road.

Unfortunately, this year’s moms have to face a new challenge that could endanger them and their new babies. The emerging Coronavirus-19 outbreak has placed a wrinkle in an already jittery time for pregnant mothers.

Today’s new moms must worry about protecting their babies from dangerous situations that would’ve seemed like science fiction only a few months ago.

SmartFinancial realizes that new moms are understandably afraid of the new COVID-19 threat. We’re here to help separate facts from fears to help you protect yourself and your growing family from the growing threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

What Is Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19)?

Coronaviruses are common in nature. They belong to a gigantic group of viruses that infect animals and human beings. In people, these viruses cause respiratory illnesses that range from the common cold to dangerous infections such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Coronavirus Disease-19 is the latest one discovered by scientists. The disease emerged in early December 2019, when Chinese health officials found several pneumonia cases of unknown origin in the nation’s Wuhan, Hubei province. Some patients said they visited the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market that sold live animals.

This contagious disease spread rapidly to other parts of China and other countries. On January 3, 2020, the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified the novel coronavirus-19 from lung samples collected from a Wuhan patient. The World Health Organization named the ailment it caused coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).

What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19?

Following transmission, some people develop COVID-19 symptoms two to 14 days following exposure to the pathogen. They may have a high fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Medical researchers based this timeline from the incubation period of its cousin coronavirus, the MERS-CoV. Other people remain asymptomatic but still have the possibility to transmit the virus to others.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, nor are there any medical treatments to fight the disease. Avoiding exposure to this coronavirus is the best way to stop its transmission.

What if I Catch the Coronavirus During My Pregnancy?

Right now, researchers don’t know whether expectant mothers have an increased chance of contracting this specific pathogen, but the possibility exists. COVID-19 is a novel virus, so scientists don’t completely understand how this infection affects pregnant women, their fetuses, or their newborns. They are just beginning their first peer-reviewed studies to learn how this dangerous strain affects human health, so its impact is still unknown.

Pregnancy causes hormonal changes that place women at an increased risk for infections like colds, the flu, and other respiratory diseases. Their immunity lowers to protect their fetuses from immunological attacks and their lungs compress as the baby grows. Additionally, they can suffer from severe complications if they have underlying conditions like diabetes, lupus or high blood pressure.

Healthcare workers have already witnessed these medical risks in past outbreaks when expectant mothers developed severe illness from coronaviruses in the same family as COVID-19.

The World Health Organization recently released a study that examined how the coronavirus impacts pregnant women. The latest data shows that pregnant women don’t seem to have an increased risk of developing severe symptoms. WHO researchers followed 147 women who either had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. Eight percent of infected pregnant women suffered from grave illness, while one percent became critically ill. Most experts have warned against drawing any conclusions from these findings since they involved a limited sample size.

How Can I Protect Myself from the New Coronavirus?

At this moment, there is no proven treatment for COVID-19, and scientists don’t expect a widely used vaccine for at least a year.

The World Health Organization advises pregnant women to stay vigilant to protect their health. Pregnant women should take the same precautions as everyone else to prevent a COVID-19 infection. The CDC recommends using the following steps to lower your chance of contracting this virus.

Always cover your mouth when you cough to prevent others from getting sick. Use your elbow instead of placing your hands over your mouth when you cough. This preventative step will stop you from spreading germs when you touch shared surfaces.

Wash your hands often. Scrub your hands throughout the day using soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, especially if you have visited a public place. Also, clean them after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing to prevent spreading COVID-19.

If soap and water are not available, use a quality hand sanitizer. These products should contain at least 70 percent alcohol to kill this virus. Make sure the sanitizer covers all surfaces of your hands (on the front and back) then rub them together until they are dry.

Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands. It’s hard to break this habit for many people since most unconsciously touch their faces at least 16-20 times every hour.

Practice social distancing whenever possible. Avoid crowds, especially in cramped, closed-in spaces that can increase your infection risk. Stand at least six feet away from others who may have the virus. It will protect yourself and those people at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19.

Stay home if you’re sick. This action can prevent you from spreading illness to other people.

If you have symptoms, wear a face mask if you need to go out. This will prevent others from being infected.

Don't wear a face mask if you're not ill, unless you’re caring for another sick person, since they are in short supply and medical workers need them.

Regularly clean and disinfect shared surfaces. Use detergent (or soap) and water to wash them off if they're dirty before disinfecting Keeping shared surfaces clean may be harder for parents with children at home.

Taking these precautions can protect yourself, your family, and other people from catching the virus.

I’m Afraid of Catching the Coronavirus. Should I Still Go to My Prenatal Appointments?

You should still keep to your prenatal appointments with your doctor until you’re told otherwise. The health of you and your baby still matters, but don’t stress out if you can’t make every single appointment.

Many municipalities, such as San Francisco and New York City, have now ordered their citizens to shelter in place and practice social distancing to “flatten the curve” and stop COVID-19’s spread. Other businesses, including doctors’ offices, have shut down their waiting areas to prevent person-to-person transmission of the virus.

An excellent option for pregnant women may be to speak with their obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) through virtual or telecare appointments. Additionally, your physician may require telephone triage and virtual visits for pregnant patients with respiratory symptoms similar to COVID-19.

Telecare appointments allow your physician to examine you, so you won’t have to leave the comfort of your home. If you’re sick, this technology allows your physician to obtain your general history, trace contacts, and any recent travel you may have had that could have brought you into contact with an infected person. They can also prescribe medications and other treatments using these devices.

Some insurance plans cover these telecare visits in their policies. If your insurer doesn’t provide this pregnancy coverage, you can search for one that does. You don’t even have to wait until Open Enrollment to sign up. Pregnancy counts as a Qualifying Life Event (QLE) under federal guidelines, which makes you eligible for a Special Enrollment Period outside of Open Enrollment.

Do you need insurance coverage for your pregnancy? SmartFinancial can help you compare health insurance rates and plans from different insurers. We'll help you choose a policy that's right for you.

As you near your delivery date, ask your local healthcare facility if it has taken any actions to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmissions. Additionally, see if you’ll need to take any precautions before your delivery to ensure the health of you, your child, and your support person. If you’re delivering at home, ask your midwife or doula if they're taking any measures to protect you.

Also, keep in mind that your local hospital may have regulations in place that prevent patients from having any visitors other than one support person (or partner). Many healthcare facilities have restricted visitor access due to the risk of unintentional COVID-19 transmission from visitors.

Can Women Pass COVID-19 to an Unborn Child?

A Chinese research team led by Dr. Huijun Chen tracked nine pregnant patients infected with the COVID-19 from the outbreak epicenter in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China. They studied the infected women’s potential to transmit the virus to their infants.

Although each expectant mother developed COVID-19 pneumonia, their infants, born via cesarean section, were healthy and disease-free. The researchers found no evidence that the women transmitted the illness to their children through their amniotic fluid.

Although it’s unlikely that mothers can pass the virus to their children in the womb, it may be possible for infants to become infected after birth. The Guardian recently reported that a newborn, whose mother had COVID-19, tested positive for the virus soon after birth. So far, the infant is fine.

Aside from the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to their children, infected mothers may have higher rates of pre-term deliveries than other women. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control does not know whether these delivery outcomes resulted from the infection or normal pregnancy-related issues.

Can I Transmit the Coronavirus to My Baby if I Breastfeed?

In this age of the novel coronavirus, some expectant mothers wonder if it’s possible to transmit this virus to their newborn babies through their breast milk.

It’s a private choice whether a new mother breastfeeds her child, although experts promote it. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding children for the first six months of their lives, followed by continued breastfeeding as solid foods are introduced.

Several refereed studies have shown that breastfeeding boosts immunity, strengthens their health, and improves infants’ brain development. Their experts recommend breastfeeding for at least a year or more.

Medical contraindications against breastfeeding are rare. Scientists don’t understand exactly how COVID-19 transmits from person-to-person. Yet, there is little evidence it spreads through breast milk.

They believe transmission occurs through respiratory droplets that infected people produce when they cough or sneeze, similar to influenza. If you’re a mother with confirmed COVID-19 (or suspected of having the virus) you should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to your infant. Speak with your doctor about how to keep the baby safe from an infection.

Scientists have conducted a limited study of another coronavirus infection related to COVID-19 called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). They have not detected this virus in breast milk; however, they don’t know whether the same is true for COVID-19-positive mothers. Currently, the CDC has no specific guidelines for infected mothers who want to breastfeed their children.

The New York Times recently interviewed Dr. Denise J. Jamieson, Emory University School of Medicine’s chairman of gynecology and obstetrics. The physician said that although the COVID-19 hasn’t been detected in breast milk, given what we know about viruses, there is a high likelihood that it could be, although scientists don’t know for sure.

Some experts recommend coronavirus-infected mothers to temporarily separate themselves from their babies while they have a fever, cough, and or other symptoms. They should also consider pumping and discarding breast milk until they are no longer sick.

The CDC, however, isn’t advising women infected with COVID-19 to stop breastfeeding. Instead, they recommend the following steps:

  • Always wash your hands before touching your baby.
  • Wear a face mask, when possible, while feeding your infant.
  • Wash and clean bottles and pumps you touch after every use.
  • If you’re expressing milk, wear a manual or electric breast pump.
  • If possible, have someone who is healthy pump breast milk to feed your child.

Can I Still Travel or Take a Babymoon?

Babymoons are celebratory holidays and pre-baby vacations taken by parents-to-be. They allow couples to relax and enjoy time together as a couple before they become parents. The federal government recently announced travel restrictions for overseas travel and issued advisories about traveling on planes or cruise ships. You should stay close to home to decrease your chances of getting this illness, and other ones like influenza.

Make Sure Your Health Coverage is Up-to-Date

If you become pregnant, you qualify to participate in a Special Enrollment Period. You can enroll in Marketplace coverage here, even if it’s outside the official Open Enrollment Period. Once you sign up for the new plan, your pregnancy coverage will be effective from the day the baby was born. It can cover any healthcare expenses you or your infant incur if you catch COVID-19.

If you already have Marketplace coverage when your baby is born, you have one of two choices:

Keep your current insurance plans, then add your baby to your coverage.

Change to a different Marketplace plan.

Private insurance plans provide the following pregnancy coverage:

Maternity care and childbirth – These services are provided before and after your child is born. These are essential health benefits, which means all qualified health plans inside and outside the Healthcare Marketplace must cover them.

You’re entitled to this coverage - You can receive this coverage even if you were pregnant before your plan started. Under the healthcare law, pre-existing conditions, including pregnancy, are covered.

Summary of Benefits - Healthcare plans must provide a Summary of Benefits and Coverage documents.

Grandfathered individual health plans - Some grandfathered individual health plans – ones you buy yourself, not through a job – aren’t required to cover pregnancy and childbirth. If you have a grandfathered individual plan, contact your insurance company to learn about your pregnancy and childbirth coverage. If you’re not satisfied with this plan, you can shop for a new one on to find affordable insurance that best suits your needs.

If you can’t afford an insurance plan, you can sign up for maternity and childbirth care through Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). These state-based programs cover pregnant women and their children below certain income levels. You can apply two ways: through your state agency or by filling out a Marketplace application.

I’m Pregnant and Need Health Insurance!

Do you need help finding pregnancy coverage that will provide excellent healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic? You can trust SmartFinancial’s reliable app to find an affordable insurance plan that fits healthcare needs. Finish our fast, three-minute questionnaire about pregnancy coverage; then, we’ll sift through dozens of insurance companies to find the best rates in your area. We even offer outstanding discounts on plans. Just enter your zipcode below.

Our company provides knowledgeable agents to help consumers make the best financial decisions for their lifestyles. Compare rates to find the policy that’s right for you. Visit our site to get a quote today. For details, contact one of our helpful agents at (855) 214-2291.

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