COVID-19 updates for pregnant women, children and parents
There are currently high levels of anxiety in the community regarding the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, with people especially concerned about the potential impact on pregnant women, babies and young children.
If you’re feeling anxious and worried about your own health and that of your family, you’re not alone. It’s understandable to be concerned in such uncertain times.
It is important to read information that is trustworthy, and to access information in order to inform yourself, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming. Below we answer some commonly asked questions.
What is the potential impact on pregnant women and babies?
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians (RANZCOG) has released a statement, of which the following points are worth highlighting:
- There is currently limited information on the impact of COVID-19, given its recent emergence.
- At the time, pregnant women do not appear to be more severely unwell if they contract COVID-19. It is expected that most women will experience only mild or moderate cold/ flu like symptoms.
- There is no evidence that contracting COVID-19 increases your risk of miscarriage during early pregnancy.
- There have been a handful of very recent case reports suggesting that the virus may pass from the mother to the baby (vertical transmission). However, this is very early, preliminary data and has not been confirmed. There was no evidence of harm to the babies. Woman should remain reassured, given our extensive knowledge of the impact of the effect of other respiratory viruses, that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 will harm your baby or cause abnormalities.
- There is no evidence that COVID-19 can pass to your baby through breastmilk. Therefore, currently the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risk of transmission.
- Pregnant women are advised to avoid non-essential travel, and to follow the advice given to the general public.
The healthcare system changes in response to COVID-19 may also impact maternity care. These are some changes that might be considered in hospitals. Remember to check with your healthcare provider before making any changes:
- Reducing, postponing and/or increasing the interval between antenatal visits
- Shortening the duration of antenatal visits
- Using tele-health consultations as a replacement, or in addition, to routine visits
- Avoiding face to face antenatal classes
- Limiting visitors (partner only) while in hospital
- Earlier discharge from hospital than would otherwise be planned
What is the potential impact on young children?
Based on the current evidence regarding the impact of COVID-19 on young children, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection have advised the following:
- Based on available evidence, children do not appear to be at higher risk from COVID-19 than adults.
- Most known cases of COVID-19 are in adults.
- The symptoms of COVID-19 appear to be the same in children as in adults, such as fever, runny nose, cough, and in some cases diarrhoea and vomiting.
- Children with confirmed COVID-19 cases have generally presented with mild symptoms.
How will COVID-19 affect my maternity and postnatal care?
COVID-19 may affect different aspects of your antenatal, birth and postnatal care. The relevance of these possible changes is likely to be affected by where you live and the current status of Government Restrictions that are in place.
The current restrictions in some states currently mean that some of your antenatal appointments may be conducted via tele-health. This still provides you with an opportunity to discuss your pregnancy progress with your obstetrician or midwife. Some appointments will remain in person to provide an opportunity to monitor your physical health also.
Government restrictions have impacted on current regulations around the birth.
In areas where there are Stage four restrictions, women and their partners will be tested for COVID-19 the week prior to the due date of birth. This is to test whether you or your partner may be infected, and whether additional precautions will be required around the time of the birth.
There are also changes to partner attendance following birth. Whilst partners are able to attend the birth and remain with the birthing mother for the remainder of the day, they are then only able to visit the hospital for a two hour duration on the following days. The times of the day when partners are able to visit may also vary from one hospital to another, so check with your birthing hospital or healthcare professional.
Stage four restrictions have also reduced the options around childbirth, namely the option of having a water birth. Again, check with your local hospital about whether this is possible.
Another major change to the birth is that health health professionals attending the birth will be wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) – namely gowns, masks and face shields. Partners attending the birth will also be required to wear a face mask, however the birthing mother will not. Whilst this may seem somewhat daunting, try to remember that this is simply a measure to protect your personal safety and that of your family.
Postnatal care in areas currently restricted may also be affected. Here there may be limitations to home visiting services and as with antenatal care. Here some of your appointments with your general practitioner, obstetrician or maternal and child health nurse may be via tele-health.
Parent’s groups are also likely to be impacted, as there are restrictions to group gatherings. Some jurisdictions may hold online parent-groups. Alternatively, other community support groups such as Mama Tribe currently offer online support via their localised facebook groups.
Advice for slowing the spread of coronavirus
The same advice for public applies to pregnant women, parents and young children. This includes measures such as:
- Frequently wash your hands
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow
- Stay at home if you’re feeling unwell
- Stay local when possible for work and play
- Do not attend mass gatherings – follow the Government current guidelines
- Minimise physical contact with people with high risk health conditions, or the elderly – this may mean staying in contact with grandparents through phone calls instead of visits
- Keep a distance of 1.5 metres from people when possible
- Self-isolate for fourteen days if you have returned from overseas
COPE has also compiled a list of suggestions specifically for pregnant women, and parents with infants:
- Have a back-up plan for care of your baby: You may feel more comfortable if you have a back-up plan in the event you or your partner contract COVID-19 after you give birth, or in the event that daycares and school close. Who would you choose to either take care of, or assist you in taking care of your baby? Remember, at this time elderly parents may not be suited to taking care of your baby, given they are at high risk.
- Ensure any substitute caregivers have followed an immunisation schedule: When thinking about a substitute caregiver, ensure they have followed the current recommended immunisation schedule (e.g. vaccinating against whooping cough).
- Keep yours and your baby’s health records on hand: So you have your information available and easy to access.
- Prepare some meals: Have someone cook double of what they are making for their family, so that you know you have food on standby.
Advice for managing anxiety over coronavirus
Managing your anxiety and supporting your psychological wellbeing is incredibly important during this time. Below are some strategies to help you cope:
- Limit your exposure to media coverage: Aim to stay informed, but not overwhelmed. Be aware of how much news you are reading or watching each day, and this includes social media! Try limit this to a once daily, brief check-in, and have days where you don’t watch or read any news at all.
- Stay active: Nature is a great grounding tool and getting some fresh air can be energising. If you’re staying inside, take a look at the vast array of yoga, pilates, or other exercise videos available online.
- Take the time each day to do something that relaxes you: This may be stretching, mindfulness practice, cooking or reading a good book. Turning off your phone can help you focus on the present moment.
- Take the time each day to do something with your family that is enjoyable: This may be painting and crafts together, or watching a funny movie.
- Be aware of your level of anxiety and worries: If you feel it is becoming overwhelming, talk to a friend or family member about how you’re feeling, seek help from a healthcare professional or call a helpline.
- Check in with your breathing: Breathing is so simple, so effective, and so under-rated! A calm, slow breath regulates the brain and the body, while anxiety does the opposite. Be conscious of your breath and play around with some different techniques to find one that works for you.
- Stay connected with friends and family: Especially if you are spending more time indoors, or are required to self-isolate, make sure you stay connected with friends through calls, texts and the internet.
- Create an indoors list: Write down all the things you wished you had time for but always found life too busy – like the photo album you’ve been meaning to create, or spring cleaning the pantry. On the other hand, if the last thing you feel like doing is being productive – that’s OK too.
- Remember this too shall pass: Although this is a stressful and worrying time, things will eventually settle down and life will return to normal.
Useful resources for parents and pregnant women
Some other trusted resources you may find helpful during this time are:
- Australian Government
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organisation
- The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- The Conversation: How to prepare for coronavirus with a baby
If your mothers’ group has been cancelled, or you are just looking for online support, you can check out these Facebook groups:
- Mama Tribe: Both online community groups and real-life meet-ups, with over 55 local groups across Australia.
Above all, take care of yourself and just take one day at a time.