Health experts say one of the most asked questions they are getting regarding COVID-19 is how the virus affects pregnant women.
Dr. Heather Bartos, MD, an obstetrician gynecologist at Texas Health Frisco, said while there still many unknowns it is believed pregnant women could be more susceptible to the novel coronavirus.
“A pregnant woman’s immune system is constantly in flux,” Bartos said. “A pro-inflammation environment is common the first trimester, with some immune factors then decreasing as the pregnancy continues. These factors can make a pregnant woman more susceptible to certain viruses and bacteria. Because COVID-19 is a novel – or new – virus, our bodies haven’t attacked the virus before. This may leave pregnant women at an increased risk of contracting the virus, although there are no studies.”
Bartos said there is often question about whether the symptoms a woman is experiencing are related to being pregnant or if they're signs she has contracted COVID-19.
Bartos said COVID-19 symptoms include a sore throat and a fever of greater than 100.4 degrees.
“Pregnancy itself does not cause fever,” Bartos said. “Also, pregnancy symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, etc., are not symptoms associated with COVID-19. Pregnant women can have a 'stuffy nose' and drainage and while this is also a symptom of COVID-19, without fevers or cough would not be likely.”
Bartos said pregnant women can experience a shortness of breath called dyspnea of pregnancy, which is a normal process. She said when experiencing this the woman feels breathless walking around the house. But she said the woman has normal color and returns to normal after resting.
“The shortness of breath associated with COVID-19 will usually have other symptoms, such as fevers, cough, and would progress,” Bartos said.
Doctors said patients have also been concerned about how the baby could be impacted by the coronavirus if the mother contracts it.
Bartos said if a pregnant woman becomes infected with the coronavirus it won't affect a fetus in utero.
“But there is decreased lung volume when you're pregnant,” Bartos said. “Anything that affects the lungs affects the oxygen that gets to the baby and the placenta.”
Bartos said precautions can be taken. She said the CDC has released guidelines for pregnant women, which she said are similar to what was released during the spread of the H1N1 virus in 2009. Those recommendations include washing hands frequently and wearing a mask when the mother is breast feeding or if she's sick. Pregnant women are also encouraged to stay away from anyone who may be sick and to stay inside when possible.
“Social distance is essential here,” Bartos said.