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Infectious Diseases

Updated 09 September 2020

Pregnancy and Covid-19: What the latest science says

A large systematic review indicates that pregnant women with Covid-19 are likely to need intensive care and give birth early.

  • A new systematic review suggests that pregnant women with Covid-19 are less likely to have major symptoms
  • The review also found that these women stand a higher chance of giving birth early
  • The findings are based on 77 studies by an international research team

Scientists are learning more about how Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, affects pregnant women and their unborn babies during and after pregnancy. And based on a new, live systematic review by a team of international researchers, pregnant women with the disease may likely need intensive care and experience preterm birth.

The team, who compared the clinical features, risk factors, and outcomes of Covid-19 in pregnant and recently pregnant women with non-pregnant women of similar age, also found that being older, overweight, and having other medical conditions increase a pregnant woman’s risk of having more serious Covid-19.

The findings were published in BMJ

Living systematic reviews

Living systematic review (LSR) is an emerging approach that provides real-time, trustworthy evidence.

In their recent analysis, the team looked at 77 studies that reported on the rates, clinical features (symptoms, laboratory and X-ray findings), risk factors, and outcomes of 11 432 pregnant and recently pregnant women admitted to hospital and diagnosed as having suspected or confirmed Covid-19.

Among their findings was that, compared with non-pregnant women of reproductive age, pregnant and recently pregnant women with Covid-19 were less likely to report symptoms of fever and muscle pain (myalgia), but were more likely to need admission to an intensive care unit (ICU) and require ventilation.

The chances of giving birth prematurely were also higher in pregnant and recently pregnant women with Covid-19, compared to those without the disease.

Stillborn and newborn death rates low

The researchers also reported that a quarter of all babies born to mothers with Covid-19 were admitted to a neonatal unit. They were also at an increased risk of admission than those born to mothers without the disease. However, stillbirth and newborn death rates were low.

Risk factors linked to Covid-19

Maternal risk factors associated with severe Covid-19 were increasing age, high body mass index (BMI), chronic high blood pressure, and pre-existing diabetes.

The team wrote that mothers with pre-existing comorbidities will need to be considered as a high-risk group for Covid-19, along with those who are obese and of older age.

Based on these findings, they added that healthcare professionals should be mindful that pregnant women with Covid-19 might need access to intensive care and specialist baby care facilities.

Covid-19 and unborn, newborn babies: what recent studies suggest

Other recent studies looking at maternal transmission of Covid-19 to a baby during pregnancy, found it to be uncommon.

According to Health24, the report, from the University of Nottingham in England, also indicates that babies born vaginally, are breastfed, or allowed contact with their mother were also not at a greater risk of infection. 

Results from another study by researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and University of California Los Angele, and published in JAMA last month, showed that after analysing 64 samples of breast milk infected with the virus, transmission to babies was unlikely.

The researchers commented that mothers should continue to breastfeed their babies, even if they have contracted Covid-19, as the benefits outweigh the risks.