What Pregnant Women Should Know About COVID-19

Here’s how to protect you and your baby.

Understandably, pregnant women are worried about COVID-19. Here, Dr. Laura Riley, obstetrician and gynecologist-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine, explains what pregnant women should know about the new coronavirus and how they can protect themselves and their babies.

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Are pregnant women more likely to become sick with COVID-19?
There is limited data on pregnant women who have been infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. This limited data suggests that pregnant women are no more likely to develop serious symptoms than others.

How can pregnant women protect themselves and their babies?
Pregnant women should protect themselves as everyone else in the general public should, and follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60% to 95% 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 20 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.

It’s also really important to practice social distancing, staying at least 6 feet away from people when out in public and avoiding social gatherings.

Dr. Laura Riley

Dr. Laura Riley

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. 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.

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. Researchers are actively studying whether COVID-19 can be passed to babies in utero.

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. COVID-19 is a possibility, so it’s important to tell your provider before you come to the hospital or doctor’s office so we can be prepared and assess whether a virtual visit or an in-person evaluation is needed. Pregnant women should avoid seeking care at an emergency department whenever possible. Your obstetrician or midwife is the most qualified expert to help you.

Can any of my prenatal appointments be virtual?
In general, women have between 12 and 14 visits overall during a routine pregnancy, and I think it’s clear that you don’t need all 14 to still have good prenatal care. Which visit can be avoided or which visit can be replaced with a video visit really depends on your pregnancy. The best thing to do is call your provider and ask their opinion. If you are healthy and not experiencing complications, you may be able to transition several prenatal appointments to video visits.

Can I be tested for COVID-19 if I’m pregnant?
NewYork-Presbyterian is currently testing patients in the hospital and pregnant patients who are coming in to deliver a baby, as well as a few other patient populations. If you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, it’s important that you call and let us know you are concerned about possible exposure. If you are advised to visit a healthcare provider, you will be directed to use a mask throughout your visit and coordinate your visit time to minimize exposure to others.

Can I breastfeed if I have COVID-19 or suspect that I do?
You can breastfeed your baby. There is no data that shows the virus is in breastmilk. But take precautions to avoid spreading it to your infant, including washing your hands before touching your baby and wearing a face mask.

Laura Riley, M.D., is obstetrician and gynecologist-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine. She is author of two books, You and Your Baby: Pregnancy and You and Your Baby: Healthy Eating During Pregnancy.

Additional Resources

A version of this story first appeared in Weill Cornell Medicine’s patient-care blog.