Hospitals like the Mayo Clinic in the US are drafting policies where COVID-19 positive mothers are separated from their babies at birth. Regan Theiler, an obstetrician who works at their Minnesota location, said “We’re deciding things like, if Mom is asymptomatic but tests positive, are we going to separate the baby from her? We’re going to recommend separating the baby from her at birth if she is symptomatic, but if the test is pending, do we isolate the baby?”
Policies like these cause extra stress in an already difficult time, and new research shows that they might not be necessary at all. This is encouraging news for families in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.
This research presents evidence from previous coronavirus infections that transmissions from pregnant mothers to babies, or so-called vertical transmission, is not happening. The review, from the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University, in Atlanta, GA, was done by Dr. David A. Schwartz and should help provide some preliminary comfort during this outbreak of SARS-CoV-2.
The data compared was of SARS-CoV (SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome) to the current outbreak, and is helpful for understanding the potential for transmission of these viruses from mother to baby. Currently, COVID-19 infections in the women studied did not lead to the death of the mothers.
The babies of these mothers also did not contract coronavirus in utero, and testing of tissue samples, including the placenta, did not show evidence of the virus.
During the SARS outbreak, 12 women were identified with the infection during pregnancy, and “Vertical transmission of the SARS-CoV virus did not occur in any of the infants.” The MERS outbreak had data on 11 pregnant women, and “There have been no confirmed cases of vertical transmission of MERS-CoV.”
All of the women studied with COVID-19 were in their third trimester, all of them delivered live babies—one a set of twins.
In the first dataset, moms ranged in age from 26–40 years old. One mom also had influenza, one had pregnancy-induced hypertension, and one had pre-eclampsia. From this group of women, “The presence of SARS-CoV-2 was evaluated in 6 of the 9 cases from amniotic fluid, breastmilk, umbilical cord blood and neonatal throat swabs—all tests were negative.”
Pregnant moms and their families are faced with new hospital policies that restrict visitors or could isolate them from their newborns. Some are deciding to skip the hospital completely. Familes may also make this decision out of a desire to avoid COVID-19 infections, and to limit the contact of their family with spaces filled with sick populations, or to try to decrease the load on increasingly burdened medical systems.
The increase in homebirths is bringing more families to seek midwives, causing families to shift birth plans weeks to months before delivering. There has also been an increase in women seeking information on unassisted birthing, or birthing without a trained medical provider present, leading providers to be concerned that in an emergency these women are left without any help immediately present should things go sideways.
More information will continue to be released as COVID-19 spreads and doctors are able to study how it affects all of us, from pregnant women and newborns, to the elderly. The more information we have, the closer we get to helping more people, to hopefully finding both a preventative and a cure.