March 30, 2020

Researcher explores coronavirus risks for pregnant women

The novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is raising concern about the impact of the illness on pregnant women.


by Jessica Pasley

The novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is raising concern about the impact of the illness on pregnant women.

According to Jennifer Thompson, MD, assistant professor of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, pregnant women may be more susceptible to respiratory illnesses due to the normal changes in the immune system during pregnancy.

Jennifer Thompson, MD

“Because this is a novel strain, there is not enough data available to predict whether pregnant women may contract the virus at a higher rate than the general public,” said Thompson. “Pregnant women should practice the same risk-reducing activities as the general population — hand-washing and social distancing.”

Thompson urges pregnant women to contact their OB-GYN’s office via phone or a patient portal if they begin experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID-19 including new onset cough, shortness of breath or fever, in order to assess symptoms and for possible referral to an assessment site for additional screening.

While information on the virus continues to surface, Thompson said there is no evidence that there is transmission in utero or across the placenta, known as vertical transmission.

“Up to this point, there is no data that has confirmed that transmission nor has there been any evidence of neonatal transmission through cord blood, amniotic fluid or breast milk. We believe that transmission to neonates is similar to how it is transmitted via adults — through droplets and close contact.

“So, the same care and precautions being recommended in interactions with adults are the same that need to be taken when handling your infant.”

Thompson said that based on the limited amount of data that is available, there is not an increased risk of birth defects or preterm delivery and the risk of miscarriage is not known to be directly affected by COVID-19.

Depending on the circumstances, if a child is born to a mother who tests positive for the virus, the baby may be temporarily separated from the mother to reduce the risk of infection to the newborn.

While breastfeeding will be encouraged, the baby should be fed by a healthy caregiver.

Thompson said there is much to be learned from this pandemic.

“We will be participating in a registry for pregnant women with COVID-19 to explore the impact that this virus has on our pregnant population,” she said. “We want to learn how they presented with symptoms, the course of the disease as well as the maternal and neonatal outcomes.”