How COVID-19 Makes Pregnancy Different

Here’s what you need to know to have a healthy, happy pandemic pregnancy
pregnant woman at home on computer

When you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, it’s a time full of excitement — and a little worry. But thanks to the pandemic, there are now even more concerns to watch out for.

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According to the CDC, pregnant people might be at an increased risk for severe illness due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). However, being pregnant (or trying to become pregnant) during the COVID-19 outbreak doesn’t mean you’re at the mercy of the virus and its variants. You can protect yourself by washing your hands, wearing a mask, keeping a safe distance and avoiding public places where people don’t wear masks.

Ob/Gyn and reproductive infectious disease specialist Oluwatosin Goje, MD, offers more guidance for navigating a pandemic pregnancy.

Q. How can I ease the stress of being pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A. Part of the stress is the unknown. We don’t know if or when life will return to pre-pandemic normal. So take it one day at a time and do your best to remain healthy and happy:

  • Plan ahead: Your partner may not be allowed to join you for prenatal visits, so take advantage of technology to have him or her in the room virtually. And consider lining up a backup support person for your delivery, in case your birthing partner becomes ill.
  • Be mindful: Avoid doom-and-gloom thinking by focusing on the present. Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation or gentle yoga to keep your thoughts from spiraling out of control. Reducing anxiety promotes a healthier pregnancy.
  • Emphasize nutrition: If you’re a stress eater, you might use pregnancy as an excuse to have the extra scoop of ice cream or slice of cheesecake. But remember, you and your baby need high-quality foods. Choose fruits, vegetables and lean proteins instead to manage your weight.
  • Sleep well: Sleep promotes physical and mental health. Practice good sleep hygiene so you can get seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. If you’re now working from home, go ahead and sneak in a midday nap.

Q. Will my prenatal visits be in-person or through telehealth?

A. Both! We need to see you in person at critical milestones, but the rest can likely be done through telemedicine. I reassure patients that while the quantity of in-person visits may go down, the quality of your care remains high. You can expect these milestones during in-person visits:

  • Your initial visit: Your provider confirms the pregnancy. This may include an initial ultrasound or genetic screening.
  • 11 to 13 weeks: Genetic screening and ultrasound as needed.
  • 18 to 20 weeks: You have an anatomy ultrasound to confirm the progression of your pregnancy. You can also find out the sex of your baby (if you choose).
  • 24 to 28 weeks: The glucose test at this visit screens for gestational diabetes. If your blood type is Rhesus negative, you’ll get a repeat testing and Rhogam administered at 28 weeks.
  • 36 to 37 weeks: This appointment is when you’ll be screened for the group B strep infection.

Between these visits, you will likely have a virtual appointment every four weeks until 28 weeks, every two weeks until 36 weeks and weekly until delivery to discuss overall health and identify any concerns, which could indicate you need extra care. Also, if any of the screening results show a potential problem, you may need more in-person visits.

The purpose of increasing the use of telehealth is to ensure waiting rooms aren’t crowded and wait times aren’t prolonged. We want to minimize your exposure wherever possible. If we ask you to come into the clinic, it’s because the benefit outweighs the risk.

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Q. How will the pandemic impact my birthing plan?

A. I generally talk about preferences, rather than birth plans. Things don’t always go as planned (pandemic or no pandemic). There are a few ways your preferences might change because of the coronavirus:

  • Fewer people with you: While you may have hoped to have several people in the delivery room with you, the hospital will likely limit who can join. Consider other ways to interact with family or friends during your delivery, such as virtual options.
  • Masks required: You and your in-person coach will need to wear a face mask when you enter the hospital and will likely be screened to ensure you aren’t ill.
  • If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19: The hospital where you deliver and their room availability could impact whether your baby can be in the same room after delivery. There will be shared decision making if you are COVID-19 positive, and you’ll have opportunity to ask questions.

Q. Is it safe to go on a babymoon with the coronavirus circulating?

A. We want pregnant people to be relaxed and not anxious, so taking the time to be alone with your partner can be beneficial. If you plan well, it is possible. I recommend a road trip over flying somewhere because you’ll have less exposure to germs and crowds.

Choose a hotel or retreat center that offers room service and talk with the staff about their commitment to cleanliness to make sure you’re comfortable. Avoid crowded places and maintain, hand hygiene, use of facemasks and social distancing while having your babymoon retreat. And remember, regardless of how you travel, stop every two hours to use the bathroom, stretch your legs and stay hydrated.

Q. Can I still have a baby shower?

A. You certainly deserve to be showered with love and attention, but this is not the time to throw caution to the wind. Keeping a physical distance remains very important, and that’s often hard to do with a crowd, even if it’s hosted outside.

If someone insists on throwing you a shower, remember — it’s your body and your baby. It’s perfectly fine to say no and suggest a contact-minimizing alternative, such as a virtual or drive-by baby shower.

But if you must have an in-person shower, please follow the guidelines. Have all attendees remain six feet apart and wear their masks at all times. And skip the refreshments, so people don’t need to remove their masks.

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It’s safe to say that a pandemic pregnancy may be a pregnancy like no other. But with a few precautions, you can have a safe, memorable and even enjoyable experience.

Q. What should I do if I do become infected with COVID-19?

A. First thing, don’t panic. Stay at home and inform your provider right away. Your provider’s office will switch your upcoming visit to a virtual one. Most symptoms start as mild, flu-like ones — fever, chills, cough, headache, body aches, joint pains, fatigue or loss of taste and smell. You might even feel like you have the flu or an upper respiratory infection. Your provider will guide you virtually and give parameters for when you’ll need to go to the emergency room.

If you’re having trouble breathing or have any other warning signs like pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or are having a hard time staying awake, seek emergency care.

Also, let people know that they have been exposed to COVID-19, especially co-workers or family members residing in the same house. At home, stay away from others and monitor your symptoms. If you can’t isolate yourself from others, wear a mask in their presence.

And if your symptoms are mild, rest and stay hydrated. You can also take over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen, to help manage your symptoms.

Q. Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I’m pregnant?

A. Doctors have stated emphatically, time and time again, that people can get the vaccine and plan for a family. They can get the vaccine and conceive, and even if they get the first dose and get pregnant, they can go ahead and get the second dose, too. It’s especially important for pregnant patients to receive the vaccine because they are at an increased risk for severe illness compared to non-pregnant patients. They had increased rates of hospitalization, increased ICU stays and an increased risk of being intubated compared to non-pregnant patients, according to the CDC. But if you have questions or concerns, have an open discussion with your healthcare provider instead of just declining the vaccine outright.

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