As the ongoing pandemic, the ensuing public health crisis and economic turmoil fuel even more anxiety among pregnant mothers, one Turkish doctor is trying to assure her patients that the risk of a mother infecting her newborn is still very low, especially with necessary precautions.
In fact, several studies have shown that the majority of babies born to COVID-19 positive mothers were neither positive nor symptomatic and the new mothers have been found unlikely to transmit coronavirus to their babies.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency (AA), obstetrician and gynecologist Emine Zeynep Yılmaz answered some commonly asked questions about pregnancy and childbirth in the time of coronavirus.
She said recent data show that they do not increase the risk of contracting the virus and most infected mothers recover even before delivery.
"Many known or suspected COVID-19 pregnancies have mild symptoms and do not require hospital care," she said. Though like other high-risk patients, pregnant women should also self-quarantine, the doctor stressed.
"Except for pregnant women in the last trimester, they should count the number of their fetal kicks and call their doctor if they notice decreased fetal movement," she said.
Some 116 million babies are expected to be born across the world under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent U.N. report.
Higher chances of preterm birth, cesarean
Yılmaz went on to say the chances of preterm birth and cesarean delivery were higher in mothers who contract the virus due to fever and hypoxemia.
"Over 95% of newborns have been in good condition at birth. Also, the chances of miscarriage have not increased based on recent data."
The doctor said the level of viruses in the blood of patients with COVID-19 was low, so transmission from the placenta to the baby is uncommon. To date, there has been one case where doctors reported a baby being infected in utero with the coronavirus and then being born with COVID-19. The mother was infected with the virus during the last trimester of her pregnancy.
She went on to say that most women contract the virus in the nasopharynx or the upper throat. The vaginal and amniotic fluid specimens of these women were mostly negative.
"A few possible cases of congenital infection, based on newborn laboratory with/without clinical findings have been reported but results are not definitive evidence of in utero infection and, in many of these cases, the early baby infection may have been due to contact with infected parents or caregivers after birth. So the significance of transmission from mother to baby while she is pregnant remains low but unclear with the recent data," she added.
She said it was unclear if breastfeeding mothers could transmit the virus to babies.
"Although some reports concluded all samples of breast milk from mothers with COVID-19 tested negative, some investigators reported identifying samples of breast milk positive for the virus," she said. She stressed more data is needed to assess the risk of viral transmission from breast milk.
Despite all positive data and reports, Yılmaz said babies from mothers who have tested positive for COVID-19 are considered potential suspects and are kept isolated. Among COVID-19 symptoms in babies are fever and difficulty in feeding.
"Respiratory symptoms may be minimal; when present, respiratory symptoms are similar to those caused by other coronaviruses and influenza, although the cough may be less prominent," she added.
In order to protect babies from infected mothers, they are separated at the time of birth. But this, she said, could stress both the mother and baby. Other precautions could include maintaining good hand hygiene and wearing masks. Similar precautions should be followed throughout the pregnancy.