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Although pregnancy is an exciting time for prospective parents, it can also be filled with anxiety—especially if you're pregnant during a global pandemic.
Aside from navigating public health measures and staying up-to-date on the new variants of COVID-19 emerging, expectant moms are experiencing a host of new health concerns for themselves and their baby.
Pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to intensive care units and require life support. A statement from the society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada notes they also have a greater risk of requiring a C-section, delivering pre-term and have a greater chance of dying from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant women.
Experts recommend pregnant women receive the COVID-19 vaccine and booster at any stage of their pregnancy to help minimize the severity of symptoms should they develop COVID-19.
Why are pregnant women at a greater risk for COVID-19 complications?
While contracting COVID-19 at any stage of pregnancy can be frightening, Dr. Genevieve Eastabrook tells Yahoo Canada that women in their third trimester (weeks 27-40) who develop COVID-19 are likely to experience worse symptoms than if they were to get sick earlier in their pregnancy.
“With the larger uterus [in the third trimester] there’s less room for their lungs to expand," says Eastabrook, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Western University. "There are also some important immune system changes that happen later in pregnancy that might impact their ability to fight off infection."
Eastabrook says the course of the coronavirus infection may also be worse if a woman suffers from a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy, like preeclampsia.
Another concern is that a mother-to-be has a higher risk of getting blood clots.
“Having pain or swelling in one leg or again shortness of breath, but also pain with deep breathing and coughing up blood is another huge red flag,” Eastabrook explains.
What should I do if I'm pregnant and get COVID-19?
According to the Provincial Council for Maternal and Child Health, about 20 to 30 per cent of pregnant women who get COVID-19 will require hospitalization. Vaccines can help reduce that risk.
For a woman who has received two, and especially three, doses of the vaccine will likely experience milder symptoms, similar to ones you get with the common cold.
Even if the symptoms are light, there are key things you can do.
Keeping a fever down is crucial Eastabrook says, because it can have a “harmful effect on the fetus.” She recommends acetaminophen and Tylenol as safe ways to lower or manage your fever.
"If you’re not able to keep anything down, if you’re not able to keep up with drinking, you’re feeling very thirsty, you’re not peeing, then those are flags to be assessed by somebody," Eastabrook adds. "You need to also make sure the baby is moving as well."
I an expectant mom starts having respiratory issues, including shortness of breath, they should be getting assessed at their obstetric triage— whether or not they're vaccinated.
No matter how mild the symptoms may be, a woman who is pregnant should be contacting her midwife or doctor to let them know she has tested positive for COVID-19.
“We also know that COVID-19 infection can be associated with a risk of pre-term birth,” Eastabrook says. “It’s important for us to be able to know so that we can keep a closer eye on people, particularly if they’ve been a bit more sick.”
What can pregnant women do to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The main recommendation from healthcare experts is for pregnant women to get vaccinated if they haven’t already done so, including the booster shot.
Recently, Ontario hospitals issued a public service announcement urging pregnant women to receive the vaccine after noticing a "disturbing, potential new trend" of infants hospitalized for COVID-19. The antibodies a mother develops in response to the vaccines cross the placenta and help protect the baby in early infancy. Despite the benefits, the vaccine coverage in pregnant Canadians "remains lower than the general population."
It’s also advised that pregnant women wear a good quality mask, preferably an N95, or a medical over a non-medical cloth mask.
Tips for new parents on how to minimize the risk of newborns contracting COVID-19
Doctors are urging new parents to be particularly careful with who they allow around their newborn. According to the World Health Organization, Omicron is quickly outpacing the Delta variant as the dominant strain around the world.
Eastabrook says newborns and small children are getting more severe symptoms with this new strain than with previous iterations of COVID-19.
"I would just encourage people to reach out to care providers that they trust for information and don’t be afraid to ask any questions, especially if you’re worried about yourself or your baby," Eastabrook says.
Parents are also encouraged to stick to the recommendations we've been advised to follow since the beginning of the pandemic: wash your hands regularly, practice social distancing and following the suggested guidelines when it comes to social gatherings.