Pregnancy is a joyous time that’s also accompanied by some very normal worries. Will my baby be healthy? How is my health as a pregnant person affected by everyday things — a cold, hair dye, cleaning a litter box? To add to these typical concerns, you may also be wondering how the COVID-19 pandemic could impact your pregnancy or delivery.
We asked all mothers-to-be to send in questions via Instagram. And we’ve teamed up with Dr. Kathryn Karges, OBGYN at our Sugar Land Hospital’s Family Birthing Center and Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group Caritas Women’s Care, to get some answers.
Q: Am I more susceptible to getting COVID-19 as a pregnant woman?
Dr. Karges: In general, pregnant women are more susceptible to infections. This is due to the fact that the immune system is normally suppressed in pregnancy. However, currently there is NO evidence to suggest pregnant women are necessarily more susceptible to COVID-19 than their non-pregnant counterparts.
Keep in mind, though, that there is much we do not know about the coronavirus. We recommend pregnant women follow the standard recommendations put forth by the CDC that apply to all: hand washing, avoiding touching your face, and maintaining social distancing practices.
Q: Can I take immunity-boosting supplements alongside my prenatal vitamins?
Dr. Karges: We recommend you discuss all supplements you plan to take with your physician. In general, supplemental vitamin C and vitamin D3 are safe, but you should discuss your individual situation with your doctor.
Everyone, however, can help boost natural immunity in other ways. Ensure you get enough sleep, exercise (be sure to discuss with your physician regarding exercises that are safe for your situation), reduce stress (the best you can! Consider meditation), stay hydrated, and eat a balanced, healthy diet.
Q: Will immunity-boosting supplements harm my baby?
Dr. Karges: Some supplements are not safe in pregnancy, even though they are labeled “natural.” It is very important to discuss any supplements you plan to take with your physician. And particular to COVID-19, there is some evidence that black elderberry supplements may worsen the disease process. So we advise patients to avoid this supplement for now until we know more.
Q: Should I continue to receive my regular prenatal checkups?
Dr. Karges: Even during a pandemic, regular prenatal appointments with your OBGYN are important to keep you and your baby healthy. However, many practices have altered the regular prenatal visit schedule, and many are offering online telehealth visits in place of an in-person visit.
We encourage you to reach out to your doctor to see what options you have, as everyone’s situation is different, and some patients with certain high-risk situations will still need to be seen on the regular schedule.
Q: Do I need to take any precautions when going to my prenatal checkups?
Dr. Karges: Most OBGYN offices are limiting the number of people who can come with you to your appointment, and the majority of practices are not allowing any other person to come with you to your appointment. Children/siblings are not allowed at the appointments. These policies are in place to minimize risk of COVID-19 spread to you, your family, other patients, and the staff. We realize pregnancy is an exciting time, and we realize how hard it is to come alone to your appointment.
Many offices are allowing patients to video or phone chat with family during the appointments, thus allowing your loved ones to still be a part of your pregnancy journey. We encourage you to reach out to your OBGYN’s office to see what policies are in place regarding these options.
Q: Is it safe to give birth in a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Dr. Karges: We can understand that coming to the hospital during a pandemic seems frightening. However, hospitals have very stringent protocols in place to keep hospitals as safe as possible for you and your baby. We encourage you to talk to your OBGYN regarding your concerns for delivery.
Q: If I have COVID-19, how will it affect my delivery?
Dr. Karges: According to hospital policy, if you have COVID-19 at the time of delivery, you will not be able to have your partner or any support person with you. This does not apply to ALL deliveries, only those in which the patient has tested positive for COVID-19.
We realize that this policy is a hard one to accept. However, studies have shown it is the safest route to protect the new mother and the baby.
Q: If I have a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case, will I have to have a C-section?
Dr. Karges: Every situation is different, and we encourage you to talk to your OBGYN regarding your concerns. However, studies have shown that there is a higher chance of C-section in patients affected by COVID-19, due to the disease process.
Q: How many people can I have in the delivery room?
Dr. Karges: If you are COVID-19 positive, you will not be able to have any visitors with you. If you are COVID-19 negative, you will be allowed to have one support person. We recommend identifying a “backup” support person in the event your planned support person becomes ill. Anyone who has signs or symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed to come to the hospital.
Q: Can I have my doula and my partner with me in the delivery room?
Dr. Karges: Unfortunately, all deliveries (COVID-19 negative) are limited to one support person. So you will be able to have either your doula or your partner with you, but not both.
Q: If I get COVID-19, will it endanger my baby?
Dr. Karges: We have limited data on the impacts of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy. In the event you become ill with COVID-19, we encourage you to discuss your concerns with your OBGYN.
Q: Can COVID-19 cause pregnancy complications?
Dr. Karges: We do not know right now. Some studies have suggested an increased risk of miscarriage or preterm labor in pregnant women affected by COVID-19, but there is limited data. We are constantly monitoring for new developments so we can inform our pregnant mothers of any changes.
Q: What medications can I take to alleviate COVID-19 symptoms while pregnant? Which medications should I avoid?
Dr. Karges: In general, in pregnancy, acetaminophen is safe to take. However, medications such as Motrin, ibuprofen, Aleve, and aspirin should be avoided. If you get sick with COVID-19, reach out to your physician to discuss your symptoms and discuss what medications you can safely take in pregnancy.
Q: Can I breastfeed if I have COVID-19?
Dr. Karges: The American Academy of Pediatrics (or AAP) states that the coronavirus has not been detected in breastmilk, and breastmilk from a COVID-19-positive mother can still be fed to the baby.
However, the AAP notes that for a COVID-19-positive mother, it is best for the mother to express breastmilk and have a non-infected caregiver feed the baby. The AAP advises against the mother directly breastfeeding her baby. We realize how difficult this is to be separated from your baby. However, there have been cases identified where an infected mother likely transmitted the virus to her baby via direct breastfeeding (due to such close personal contact). If you choose to direct breastfeed, then you must wear a mask and practice meticulous hand hygiene. We encourage you to discuss your concerns with your OBGYN to identify a solution that works best for you and your baby.
We realize this is a challenging, potentially frightening time to be pregnant and delivering a baby. This situation is rapidly changing based on new information, nearly every day. Please know that your physician is working non-stop to stay on top of any changes and implement policies to keep you and your baby safe. As always, speak to your doctor regarding your particular situation, as the recommendations above do not apply in all situations.
In order to maintain the health of our delivering families and visitors, we are temporarily postponing all tours of our Family Birthing Centers, as well as all classes and support groups. If you have already registered for one, a member of our team will reach out shortly with further details.
If you have questions about your specific situation, be sure to reach out to your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group OBGYN. These are unexpected times, but our team is always here to ease your concerns as you welcome the newest member of your family.