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Are pregnant women at a higher risk for COVID-19? Doctors don’t know yet
With much still unknown about COVID-19 and pregnancy, health experts recommend pregnant women take precautions to avoid infection. (Freestocks.org) With much still unknown about COVID-19 and pregnancy, health experts recommend pregnant women take precautions to avoid infection. (Freestocks.org)

With much still unknown about COVID-19 and pregnancy, health experts recommend pregnant women take precautions to avoid infection. (Freestocks.org)

Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman March 23, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • Health experts say a small number of women who were infected with COVID-19 in their pregnancies delivered healthy babies, but there’s still not enough known about the virus to make a determination.

  • Doctors recommend pregnant women take precautions to avoid infection.

Are pregnant women at a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19?

A Facebook post, which appears to be a screenshot from a news article, makes that claim:

"Because of changes in their immune system, pregnant women are at a higher risk when it comes to coronavirus." The story quotes a Michigan doctor who says the virus can make it harder to breathe, which poses a particular risk for women further along in their pregnancies.

This isn’t false, but it’s speculative.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Since COVID-19 is so new, doctors are still learning how it spreads and the severity of illness it causes. There is not enough known to say for sure how it affects pregnant women and their babies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that doctors don’t know if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public. They also don’t yet know whether expectant mothers are more likely to have serious illness as a result:

"Pregnant women experience changes in their bodies that may increase their risk of some infections," the CDC says. "With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses."

The CDC also says it’s not known whether a pregnant woman with the virus can pass it onto her fetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery. There have been a small number of reported cases in which infants were born to mothers with COVID-19, but none have tested positive for the virus in the United States. COVID-19 was also not found in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk, according to the organization.

The United Kingdom’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists reports that while there’s no evidence an expectant mother can pass the virus to her baby while pregnant or during birth, they have seen two cases of possible transmission. 

"In both cases, it remains unclear whether transmission was prior to or soon after birth," the organization said. "Another recent report from China of four women with coronavirus infection when they gave birth found no evidence of the infection in their newborn babies. Expert opinion is that the baby is unlikely to be exposed during pregnancy. It is also therefore considered unlikely that if you have the virus it would cause problems with the baby’s development, and none have been observed currently."

In a March 16 press briefing, President Donald Trump was asked if pregnancy was considered an underlying condition that could create more complications of the coronavirus.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who serves as White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, answered the question:

"There’s very little data in pregnant women. I think, about a week ago, I said that reports that came in from China, from the Chinese CDC, of the nine women who were documented to be pregnant and have coronavirus in their last trimester, delivered healthy children and they themselves were healthy and recovered. That is our total sample size, and we will be getting more data from countries."

Like many questions about COVID-19, there’s not enough information to give a definitive answer on how it affects pregnant women and their babies. 

Officials say the small number of women who were infected with COVID-19 in their pregnancies delivered healthy babies, but there’s still not enough known about the virus to make a determination. Health experts recommend pregnant women take precautions to avoid infection. 

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Are pregnant women at a higher risk for COVID-19? Doctors don’t know yet