What do we know about pregnancy and COVID-19?
Last modified on Feb. 17, 2021
If a pregnant person becomes infected with COVID-19 there is a higher chance they will require hospitalization and suffer more serious symptoms of the disease.
In early November 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC) released a report on 400,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 with symptomatic COVID-19 which found that admission to the intensive care unit (ICU), invasive ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and death were more likely in pregnant women than in non-pregnant women.
The report includes that increased risk for admission to the ICU was “particularly notable” among Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander pregnant women, and that both disproportionate risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection and higher risk for death was observed for pregnant Hispanic women.
Highlighting the racial/ethic disparities, the report states that “regardless of pregnancy status, non-Hispanic Black women experienced a disproportionate number of deaths.” This report adds to the current knowledge around increased risks related to COVID-19 for pregnant women, particularly pregnant women of color, and suggests that pregnant women should be counseled about increased risks of severe illness or death related to COVID-19 as well as measures to prevent infection in their families.
Preterm birth has also been associated with COVID-19, according to another report released by the U.S. CDC in early November 2020. The U.S. CDC encourages people to take preventive measures while pregnant and to seek prenatal care throughout pregnancy. If a person is infectious during labor, it is possible for them to spread the virus to the baby.
Outside of the U.S., the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that emerging international research suggests pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to need intensive care if severely ill, and more likely to give birth prematurely. The latest findings also suggest that pregnant women with COVID-19 who have pre-existing medical conditions, who are older, or who are overweight are more likely to suffer severe health complications due to COVID-19.
Context and background
A pregnant individual might be at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease, and there is also emerging data to show potential complications related to birth and infant outcomes. Since it is possible for someone who is pregnant to transmit the virus to their newborn, it is common to test pregnant individuals pre-labor for COVID-19. It is unknown if the virus is spread before, during, or after birth.
There have been documented cases of mistreatment, abuse, and obstetric violence of pregnant individuals globally in the context of COVID-19. Examples include limited prenatal care, lack of choice around who is in the delivery room, separation from newborns, and verbal abuse. The World Health Organization has issued guidance on pregnancy and COVID-19 aiming to address these concerns by discouraging negative actions such as newborn separation and forced cesarean sections.
Used with permission by Health Desk, a public health hub that explains emerging COVID-19 science.