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  • New research finds that having a symptomatic coronavirus infection during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of potentially severe complications during birth.
  • People with COVID-19 symptoms were more likely to have complications during delivery than people with asymptomatic coronavirus infections.
  • Pregnant people who had either asymptomatic or symptomatic infections were more likely to have emergency cesarean deliveries.
  • Experts say if you’re pregnant, the best way to protect yourself and your baby is to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and practice physical distancing.

Research findings presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY 2021 annual meeting on October 9 suggest that pregnant people with COVID-19 are more likely to have emergency deliveries and birthing complications.

“Given the evolving nature of COVID-19, it is critical for hospitals to share their experiences of how patients with COVID-19 are treated and how it affects patient outcomes,” study authors said in a statement.

“We wanted to provide insight into a single institution’s experience on how labor and delivery may be affected by the virus as well as the baby’s condition after birth,” they said.

Researchers conducted a retrospective review of pregnant people, defined in the study as women, between the ages of 16 and 45, who had tested positive for the coronavirus and were admitted for delivery between March and September 2020.

The study included 101 participants, 31 of whom had symptomatic infections.

Of that group, 42 percent had fever, 39 percent had a cough, about one-quarter had shortness of breath, almost 20 percent had muscle pain or chills, and around 10 percent felt chest pain.

“We do know now that women who are pregnant are more susceptible to get COVID-19, and that the course of disease is more likely to be severe,” Dr. Eran Bornstein, vice chairperson of obstetrics at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline.

“So, although most young women will have a mild disease or no disease at all, pregnant women are definitely at more risk to have a severe course of disease: more likely to die, more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit,” he said.

Study findings also showed that almost 60 percent of study participants with symptomatic infections delivered under emergency circumstances.

Comparatively, for participants who had asymptomatic infections, fewer than half had complications during delivery.

Participants with symptomatic infections were more likely to have emergency complications that included:

  • baby in a breech position
  • decreased fetal movement
  • reduced amniotic fluid

Infants born to study participants with COVID-19 symptoms were more likely to need respiratory support or be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

A baby from this group even tested positive for COVID-19 after delivery, raising the possibility of parent-to-child transmission.

“I have seen, firsthand, pregnant women who become severely ill, and at times require intubation and mechanical ventilation,” said Dr. Adi Davidov, associate chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Staten Island University Hospital in New York. “All these women have poorer fetal as well as maternal outcomes.”

The risk of having a cesarean delivery went up dramatically, regardless of whether participants had symptoms or not.

Researchers observed an almost 65 percent increased rate of cesarean delivery for participants with symptomatic infections and a 62 percent increase for participants with asymptomatic infections.

“[COVID-19 is] associated with preterm delivery,” Bornstein said. Whether early delivery is a result of the birthing parent’s health status or inadvertently caused by COVID-19 treatment is still not clear, he added.

He said early delivery due to COVID-19 could increase complications for the fetus.

Bornstein warned that if a pregnant person has severe COVID-19, their low oxygen levels could have a fatal outcome for the baby.

For example, if delivery must happen at 24 weeks to protect the health of the birthing parent and baby, “you’re delivering a baby at such a premature age that it may not survive or may survive with major complications,” Bornstein said.

Davidov said it’s important for pregnant people to take precautions against COVID-19, including getting vaccinated and practicing physical distancing and mask wearing.

“We must continue to socially distance and wear masks,” he advised. “Most importantly, everyone must get vaccinated — especially pregnant mothers or women who are planning on becoming pregnant.”

He cautioned that there’s been “a lot of misinformation propagated through various outlets” that have caused many people to fear COVID-19 vaccines.

“It is now very clear that the vaccines are safe and afford the best protection against COVID-19 for both mother and her newborn child,” Davidov said.

“For women who have not yet received the vaccine, I urge you to get it. It will help you against the more infectious Delta variant and, possibly, for other variants that may develop in the future.”

Bornstein said whether vaccination before or during pregnancy can protect the baby is still something under investigation.

“There are reports showing that there is potential for transmitting what we call passive immunization,” he said. “For example, the mother is vaccinated, and the body already has antibodies, those antibodies can cross the placenta.”

New research finds having COVID-19 during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of potentially severe complications during birth.

Experts say maintaining physical distancing, masking, and, most importantly, getting vaccinated against COVID-19 are the best ways to protect yourself during pregnancy.

They also say there’s a strong possibility that getting vaccinated will provide protection to the baby against COVID-19.