While we were all stressed during the early days and weeks of the pandemic, no one was more so than pregnant women. During pregnancy every little health risk seems amplified, so gestating during a global pandemic with no clear answers was downright traumatic for many women.
Now, six months into the pandemic, science has some answers about how pregnancy affects today, and the news is good.
This week, a study published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that women with COVID weren’t at increased risk for complications for labor complications or birth defects. Of course, it’s important to recognize that all science about COVID is early, but we’ll take the good news where we can!
The study was out of a hospital in Sweden, and examined all births between March 25 and July 24, when a total of 2,682 moms delivered babies. Of those, 5.8% tested positive for coronavirus, and 65% of them were asymptomatic.
“There was no statistically significant difference in terms of mode of delivery, hemorrhage, use of epidural, preterm birth, length of hospital stay or breastfeeding between infected and not infected women,” Science Daily reported.
However, there were two differences: women with COVID-19 had a slightly increased risk for preeclampsia, and were less likely to have their labor induced.
“One possible reason for the latter is that both preeclampsia and COVID-19 impact several organs and can present similar symptoms,” says the study’s lead author, midwife Mia Ahlberg said.
She pointed out that many of the women were asymptomatic. Women with symptoms of COVID might be more likely to experience birth complications, so it’s important that more research be done, Ahlberg said.
A recent CDC report also looked at pregnancy and COVID. It looked at 598 pregnant women with COVID, 55% of whom were asymptomatic. This study found that symptomatic women were three times more likely to have preterm labor, compared with women who were symptomatic. Stillbirth rates were 1.1% for women with COVID, compared to 1% in the general population.
The research also pointed out that Black and Hispanic women were most likely to be hospitalized for COVID during pregnancy.
Dr. Denise Jamieson, a member of the COVID-19 task force at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told NPR that the research “should be somewhat reassuring,” but that pregnant women should continue to be cautious about COVID.
She added that when babies are infected with COVID, there doesn’t seem to be lasting birth defects the way there are with a virus like Zika.
“[The virus that causes COVID-19] seems to be able to cross the placenta and infect fetuses during pregnancy,” she said. “However, the good news is that this doesn’t seem to happen very often, and there isn’t evidence that when this happens there is an association with birth defects the way we found with viruses like Zika.”
Early on in the pandemic, some women chose not to become pregnant, while others were forced into the decision when IVF clinics stopped offering services during the pandemic.
“I would not recommend a delay in pregnancy,” said Jamieson, who is chair of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory Healthcare. “I think women can take measures to avoid COVID during pregnancy and to protect themselves during pregnancy and when to get pregnant is such a personal and complicated decision, and this pandemic will probably be with us for a while. I would not advise delaying pregnancy solely on the basis of the COVID pandemic.”
Jamieson said that while restrictions on hospital visitors and COVID safety policies will make pandemic pregnancies different, the most important part — having a baby — remains unchanged.
“I hope it hasn’t substantially reduced the joy of having a baby, but… I do think it’s fundamentally changed the experience of having a baby,” she said, adding that the already isolating postpartum period can be made worse by social distancing during the pandemic.
“I look forward to a day when the pandemic is over, and we have a safe, available and effective vaccine, and we don’t have to social distance,” she said.