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What Pregnant Women Should Know about COVID-19
March 17, 2020
COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, is a new disease. Scientists are still learning how it spreads and how it affects different populations, including pregnant women. Older adults and immunocompromised individuals are at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill.
If you are pregnant and have developed a fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other respiratory symptoms: please call your healthcare provider or our hotline at (646) 697-4000 before visiting any of our locations.
Expert Advice from Dr. Laura Riley
Understandably, pregnant women have many concerns about COVID-19. Dr. Laura Riley, the Obstetrician and Gynecologist-in-Chief at Weill Cornell Medicine, specializes in maternal-fetal medicine and high-risk pregnancy. Here, she explains what pregnant women should know about the virus, as well as how they can best protect themselves and their babies.
Are pregnant women more likely to become sick with COVID-19?
“There is limited data on pregnant women who have been infected COVID-19. This limited data suggests that pregnant women are no more likely to develop serious symptoms than others,” detailed Dr. Riley.
How can pregnant women protect themselves and their babies from COVID-19?
“Pregnant women should protect themselves like everyone else in the general public,” she urged. Dr. Riley advised following the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendations:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60–95 percent alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with anyone sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands for twenty seconds. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, rather than into your hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
How can I boost my immunity while pregnant? Should I be working out?
“The best thing is to rely on rest, a good diet, vitamin C, and maybe even meditation,” she explained. “There is no one pill.”
“It’s important to continue your physical activity. This is going to help with the natural anxiety that comes with this situation,” said Dr. Riley.
She recommended practicing social distancing at the gym, as well as wiping down all equipment and washing your hands frequently.
Does COVID-19 cause pregnancy complications or birth defects?
“The data available suggests that a COVID-19 infection does not cause birth defects. It may cause a slight increase in the risk of preterm birth, but this is unclear,” said Dr. Riley.
There has been a small number of babies born to mothers with COVID-19. None of these babies have tested positive for the virus.
What should I do if I’m experiencing flu or COVID-19 symptoms?
“If you develop flu-like symptoms while you’re pregnant, it’s important that you call your obstetrician or midwife. The flu is still circulating, and you may have the flu. With pregnancy, we know that influenza can be very serious, and we would treat you with antiviral medications,” explained Dr. Riley.
“COVID-19 is a possibility, so it’s important to tell your provider before you come to the hospital so we can be prepared. Our goal is for you not to infect others when you come in for care. But you should definitely come in for care.”
Dr. Riley also recommended that pregnant women avoid seeking care at an Emergency Department whenever possible. In general, the Emergency Department is crowded. She recommends utilizing telemedicine whenever possible. Your obstetrician or midwife is the most qualified expert to help you during your pregnancy.
Can any of my prenatal appointments be virtual?
“The best thing to do is call your provider and ask their opinion,” Dr. Riley emphasized.
If you are healthy and not experiencing any complications, you may be able to transition several prenatal appointments to video visits.
Tours of the maternity ward at Weill Cornell Medicine are now canceled. How can I get the information that is usually distributed on this tour?
“We have canceled tours of the maternity ward to limit exposure to COVID-19. In doing so, we have replaced all the information with frequently asked questions,” she explained.
Can I be tested for COVID-19 if I’m pregnant?
“We are reserving the tests for those people who are very sick. If you are pregnant and very sick, then, yes, we will test you,” assured Dr. Riley.
“If you have been exposed to COVID-19, it’s important that you call us ahead of time and let us know that you are concerned that you had an exposure.”
The rapid test is not readily available. Currently, the test is only recommended for individuals who are sick with fever, cough, and shortness of breath and require hospitalization.
Call us if you have exposure to a known COVID-19 patient or have concerning symptoms. We will direct you to use a mask throughout your visit and coordinate your visit time to minimize exposure to others.
Will I need to be quarantined if I test positive?
“Quarantine is a decision made by the department of health,” explained Dr. Riley. If you are required to quarantine, your obstetrician or midwife will help coordinate your care during this time.
Other Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 and Pregnancy
Could COVID-19 hurt my baby?
COVID-19 is a new disease, so there is limited data about it, including how it affects pregnant women, unborn babies, and young infants.
Currently, the CDC states that there have not been any cases of an infected mother passing COVID-19 to her baby during pregnancy or delivery. There have been a small number of reported preterm births in babies born to mothers with COVID-19. It is unclear if this was caused by COVID-19 or another type of maternal infection.
Limited data suggest that older adults and immunocompromised individuals are at the highest risk for developing serious illness and complications from COVID-19.
Do pregnant women experience different symptoms?
No. Pregnant women experience the same symptoms as non-pregnant individuals: fever, coughing, shortness of breath, or sore throat. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.
After being exposed to COVID-19, symptoms may start to appear between 2 and 14 days.
I am pregnant and believe I was exposed to COVID-19. What should I do?
If you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and have symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath, call your obstetrics provider immediately. Be sure to call and tell your provider about any symptoms or recent travel before visiting any location.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor will determine whether you need to come in to be evaluated. If you do need to be seen by a care provider, we will take precautions to minimize exposing others to COVID-19.
What if I need to leave home to receive medical care for a chronic illness or another issue after exposure to COVID-19?
If you need to see a doctor or health care provider for a medical problem, you should call your provider ahead of your visit and let them know about your exposure or symptoms. If you are feeling sick, you can request a video visit. We can then be prepared for your visit and minimize infecting other patients or your health care provider.
If the department of health has quarantined you, please seek their advice as to the length of the quarantine.
I have a trip planned. Should I cancel or postpone it?
Avoid unnecessary travel and congregation. The CDC provides recommendations—called travel notices—on postponing or canceling travel. These notices are based on assessments of the potential health risks involved in traveling to a specific area.
I don't want to travel because of COVID-19. Can the CDC help me get a refund from my airline or cruise travel?
Although some companies may base their policies on CDC’s travel health notices, each company—not the CDC—establishes its own refund policies. The CDC does not intervene in business policy. Learn more about travel and insurance.
Will my physician write me a doctor’s note for me to work from home?
We support the current recommendation for social distancing. Therefore, we suggest that you reach out to your workplace to discuss remote work options.
Someone with COVID-19 was on my elevator/building/train. Should I be concerned or under quarantine?
It is unlikely that exposure for a brief period to asymptomatic patients will result in an infection. The best way to prevent becoming infected is to wash your hands frequently.
How can I protect myself when coming to the hospital for checkups? When I come to the hospital to give birth?
All patients and visitors are screened over the phone and at the front desk. Visitor policies have been updated to keep all patients safe.
For information on visitor policies during your outpatient appointment, please review our updated visitor policy.
For information on hospital visitor policies when coming to labor and delivery, please visit NYP's visitor policy.
Please remember to use proper hand hygiene and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Our team is taking every precaution to protect our patients when they visit our facilities.
Should I breastfeed if I have COVID-19 or suspect that I do?
According to the CDC, breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most infants. If you have COVID-19 or suspect that you do, be sure to take every precaution to avoid spreading the virus to your infant. Wash your hands before touching your baby, as well as any pump or bottle parts. Speak with your pediatrician about whether you should wear a face mask around your baby.
I was told by the department of health to quarantine myself. Can I come to my physician’s office?
Please call us first to determine if there is a need for an in-person visit. We may be able to provide you with a video visit.
Can my appointment be a video visit?
Please call your doctor’s office to see if your appointment can be a video visit. Some appointments can’t be done by video and will require an in-person visit.
Should I wear a mask and gloves in the hospital? In public spaces?
At this time, all women who arrive at the hospital in labor will be tested for the COVID-19 virus, regardless of symptoms. Our hospital staff (who will be wearing masks) will also provide masks to women in labor to wear when they arrive.
In public spaces, masks and gloves are not a long-term solution and may increase the likelihood that you excessively touch your face. The best precautions include:
- Frequently disinfecting high touch surfaces (doorknobs, etc.)
- Social distancing (at least six feet)
- Staying away from sick individuals
How many visitors can I have at one time after I give birth?
At this time, one birthing partner or support person will be allowed to be with our obstetric patients during labor and delivery. We understand that this will be difficult for our patients and their loved ones, but we believe that this is a necessary step to promote the safety of our new mothers and children. Please read more for NYP's updated visitation guidelines.
All of us at the Weill Cornell Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology understand that this is a difficult time for pregnant patients. We are here to provide support and guidance, as well as answer questions. Our providers are available to answer our patients’ questions at any time.
For more answers to FAQs, please visit: weillcornell.org/coronavirus or call our hotline, particularly if you have concerns of exposure, at: 646-697-4000