Pregnant women are not at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. That’s according to Dr. Todd Jenkins, interim chair of UAB’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Jenkins debunked a number of coronavirus pregnancy myths. He said while pregnant women are not any more likely to contract the virus, they are likely to experience more severe complications.
“And that means if they get COVID, they’re at a little higher risk of needing to be admitted to the ICU and needing to be mechanically ventilated,” he said. “But I do want to emphasize most women still do very well. We’re talking about slightly higher rates over the baseline.”
Jenkins said he’s also heard a number of concerns including mothers transmitting the virus to the fetus during pregnancy or afterward through breastmilk.
“We don’t feel like vertical transmission is a large part of transmission [during pregnancy],” Jenkins said. “While there are one or two case reports worldwide, breastfeeding and breastmilk are felt to be safe for infants of COVID-positive moms … We always will be supportive of breastfeeding.”
Jenkins said transmission is more likely to happen after birth when a COVID-positive mother or father has physical contact with the baby. As a result, he said all patients are being tested for the virus at UAB Hospital prior to delivery. Guests are being screened. Jenkins said there have been concerns about partner separation during birth or mothers being separated from their babies after birth.
Jenkins said if a mother tests positive for the virus, she will be separated from her partner during delivery.
“This was due to a concern that labor and delivery could be an aerosolized particle generating procedure, and that would risk exposure to their partner,” Jenkins said. “And if we’re going to separate, we need that partner healthy. We need that partner ready to provide that care that that newborn will need.”
He said these moms will receive a designated nurse who will be with them before, during and after delivery. Another common concern is that COVID-positive moms and babies are being separated after birth. Jenkins said UAB is not recommending these moms and babies be separated, but that it is still an option.
“They have the option of having their baby cared for by one of our nurses in a private room, but separated from them until they’re symptom-free and meet negative testing,” Jenkins said. “If they choose to keep their infant with them, then there are yet another set of precautions that we go through of asking them to mask, asking them to gown … and then we still try when the baby is in the bassinet to keep the baby a good six feet away from the mom.”
Jenkins said in addition to safety, one of their main concerns during the pandemic is for moms after the baby is delivered. He said the pandemic has posed different challenges for new mothers because interactions with families are limited. Jenkins said “a little bit of the blues” is normal for moms after birth, but UAB Hospital is taking extra measures to check on postpartum health.
“All of our patients now, including our postpartum patients, are at an increased risk of anxiety, postpartum depression and being overwhelmed,” Jenkins said. “We are very worried about, really, all women, but especially postpartum women, feeling alone and isolated during this time.”
Jenkins said the virus has also highlighted health disparities among pregnant women.
“We’re having more trouble reaching our Hispanic and African American women using telehealth and alternative prenatal care tactics,” Jenkins said. “We’re trying our best to try to find all of our patients and make sure they’re getting the care that they need.”