Doctors and public health officials have had plenty to worry about during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Spread rates, mortality rates and who was really at-risk top the list. Also on that list was this: how likely are pregnant mothers to pass the virus along to their unborn children?
Researchers from the University of Nottingham School of Medicine believe they’ve answered that question. Thankfully, their answer is good news, relatively speaking.
They have determined that the likelihood of transmission of COVID-19 from a pregnant mother to her baby is uncommon. Their study, the findings of which are published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, also revealed that infection rates were unaffected by the type of birth, breastfeeding or even contact with the mother.
In an additional bit of good news, the study found that the majority of those newborns who did test positive for the virus were asymptomatic.
Early on in the pandemic, guidelines were suggested to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from expectant mothers to their unborn and newborn children. These included caesarean births rather than vaginal delivery, using formula rather than breastfeeding and isolating the newborn from the mother after birth. There was little but speculation informing these guidelines, and the Nottingham team believed they were ill-conceived.
In order to get definitive answers about the risks underlying COVID-19, pregnancy and childbirth, the research team undertook an extensive and systematic review of 49 studies on the topic.
The studies comprised data from 666 neonates, or newborn babies, from 655 mothers. Obviously, a few of those mothers delivered twins. Here are some of their findings.
Of those babies delivered by caesarean section, 5.3 percent, or 20 out of 364 babies, tested positive for COVID-19. Of those delivered vaginally, only 2.7 percent, or 8 out 292, were positive.
They also found no evidence indicating higher infection rates among breastfed babies or among those which were allowed contact with their mothers right after being born.
The conclusion of this systematic review study? Maternal transmission of COVID-19 from mother to unborn baby is uncommon. When it does occur, the majority of newborns will be asymptomatic.
Involved in this review was an international team of scientists. They included the authors from the University of Nottingham, Dr. Kate Walker, Clinical Associate Professor in Obstetrics, and Jim Thornton, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It also included researchers from University College Cork, Cork University Maternity Hospital in Ireland, Dalhousie University in Canada and Monash University in Clayton, Australia.
Dr Walker said: “There has been a lot of concern around whether pregnant women should be concerned for the health of their babies if they contract COVID-19.
“We wanted to look at the outcome for babies whose mothers contracted the virus and see if the route of birth, method of infant feeding and mother/baby interaction increased the risk of babies contracting the virus. From our results, we are satisfied that the chance of newborn infection with COVID-19 is low.
“We would also stress that a vaginal birth and breast feeding are safe for mothers who find themselves in these circumstances.”
Dr Jeannette Comeau, is a Paediatric Infectious Diseases Physician at Dalhousie University, she said: “I am happy to see that the data continues to be reassuring, supporting keeping the mother/infant pair together after birth, underlining that while occasional postnatal infant infection is detected, clinical course tends to be mild. From the cases of infection in the newborn we do not have confirmatory evidence that this infection was acquired in the womb or during birth.”
We’re learning new and sometimes frightening things about the Chinese coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and it’s impact on the body and it’s systems. It’s somewhat of a relief to know that one group of potentially vulnerable people seem to mostly safe from it’s effects.
You can almost hear the sigh of relief from millions of pregnant mothers everywhere.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
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Journal Reference – Kate F Walker, Keelin O’Donoghue, Nicky Grace, Jon Dorling, Jeannette L Comeau, Wentao Li, Jim G Thornton. Maternal transmission of SARS‐COV‐2 to the neonate, and possible routes for such transmission: A systematic review and critical analysis. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 2020; DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.16362