If you’re pregnant, should you get the COVID vaccine?
Pregnant and breastfeeding women were not included in the vaccine studies, and historically, they’re left out of all trials like this. However, we believe side effects won’t be any different from someone who isn’t pregnant or breastfeeding. The mechanism of action is similar to other vaccines, so it should have a very low to no risk for a fetus.
As far as long-term side effects, the studies aren’t there yet. We will know so much more in a short amount of time, but early studies show it’s safe.
How is the virus affecting pregnant women?
The converse of the vaccine is the virus itself. COVID is affecting pregnant women even more so when you compare them to other women the same age. Pregnant patients with COVID have a higher risk of developing more severe disease, needing to be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU), and a higher risk of death.
We’re still learning the effects on the fetus. So far, there seem to be very little effects on a baby while it’s still in the uterus, though there may be a higher chance for stillborn and pre-term delivery.
As OB/GYNs, we are always balancing care for two patients – the mom and the baby. When a mother develops a severe disease, like COVID, we have to decide when it is the best time to deliver.
If a mother tests positive for COVID, does she need to quarantine away from her newborn?
While we aren’t sure about all of the long-term effects of COVID for a newborn, the newborn is clearly affected if separated from the mother, especially for a two-week quarantine period. We try to let the mother make that decision, and if she decides to be with the baby, we teach methods to limit spreading the infection to her baby.
Is it safe to breastfeed if you have COVID?
The virus hasn’t been seen in breast milk. Keep mask on and wash/sanitize your hands before and after breastfeeding to help mitigate the risk of spreading COVID. Breastfeeding obviously has benefits for both mom and baby, so we don’t expect mothers to stop breastfeeding even if she has COVID.
If you’re pregnant and have COVID, should you tell your OB/GYN and your baby’s pediatrician?
If you have or have had COVID, it’s important to let your providers know. This includes your primary care provider, OB/GYN and any other type of provider. It may be important to let your baby’s pediatrician know as well. COVID doesn’t necessarily put you into a high-risk category for delivery, but it does bring a heightened sense of awareness so that everyone remains safe and your provider can look for any residual effects of COVID.
What advice do you have for pregnant women during a pandemic?
Pregnancy is always nerve-wracking, whether it’s in a pandemic or not. Women find strength and rise to the occasion. We can make plans, but we can’t choreograph how a pregnancy or delivery goes. Be nimble and ready to change as situations change.
Try to normalize the pregnancy as much as possible. This has to feel normal even though it’s crazy. That’s what we’re all working to achieve.
And if something doesn’t seem right or feel right, it’s OK to come in as a precaution.
Right now we’re all focusing on the vaccine. This isn’t going to turn us on a dime, so we need to keep using precautions we know work: social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands.
Note: Drs. Sara Petruska and Edward Miller were interviewed together, and have shared recommendations on getting the COVID vaccine if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Dr. Petruska is medical director of labor and delivery at UofL Health – UofL Hospital – Center for Women & Infants and a general obstetrician/gynecologist with UofL Physicians – OB/GYN & Women’s Health. Dr. Miller is division director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine with UofL Physicians – OB/GYN & Women’s Health.