Health and wellbeing blogs

COVID-19 pregnancy and breastfeeding advice

We are closely monitoring the changes in the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and are following all recommended precautions to protect our patients, visitors and caregivers. To keep our patients and community members informed, we have answered some of the common questions that pregnant and breastfeeding women are asking us about what this situation means for their health and wellbeing and that of their baby.

19 Mar 2020

Updated: 16 July 2020 

Are pregnant women at increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19 compared with the general public?

Based on what we now know about COVID-19, pregnant women might be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to the general community. There may also be an increased risk of preterm birth or other adverse pregnancy outcomes. Therefore if you are pregnant, we recommend you take precautions including practising good hygiene, physical distancing, follow the limits for public gatherings and isolate if required, to reduce your risk of acquiring the virus.

St John of God Health Care COVID-19 and maternity

Should pregnant women continue attending antenatal appointments?

Yes, antenatal care is essential to help your healthcare team support you and your baby to stay healthy. Antenatal care can help identify any potential risks so that they can be prevented or reduced.

At this time, it is important to continue receiving antenatal care. Many appointments are offered over the phone or via video conference instead of face-to-face. Speak to your healthcare provider, your obstetrician or midwife, if you are concerned about attending your appointments and to see what options might be available.

Women should not delay contacting their healthcare provider or coming to hospital if they have any concerns about their pregnancy or think they may be in labour.

Should pregnant women still receive vaccines?

During pregnancy, women experience changes to their immune system which might make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19. This is one of the many reasons we encourage pregnant women to be fully immunised against whooping cough as well as receiving the annual flu vaccine.

Can pregnant women with COVID-19 pass the virus to their unborn baby or newborn?

A lot is still unknown about the risks of COVID-19 on newborns. 

COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly by close contact with an infected person through respiratory droplets. It is still unknown if a pregnant mother who has COVID-19 can transmit the virus to her unborn baby or newborn baby before, during or after deliver. 

What we do know is:

  • newborns can be infected with the virus after being in close contact with someone with the virus
  • some babies have tested positive for the virus shortly after being born
  • most newborns who have tested positive for the virus have had no or mild symptoms, however there have been instances of babies with severe illness
  • a small number of other problems, including preterm birth, have been reported in babies born to mothers who have COVID-19. It is not known if the problems are related to the virus.

Is it possible to transmit the illness to my baby while breastfeeding?

We do not know if mothers with COVID-19 can pass the virus onto their baby through breast milk. The limited information we have suggests this is unlikely. The transmission to babies is thought to come from the close contact with the mother and baby via respiratory droplets when sneezing or coughing. We encourage you continue breastfeeding as breast milk provides protections against many illnesses.

What can I do to assist with the prevention of spread of COVID-19?

While there is no vaccination for COVID-19, it recommended that you get vaccinated against influenza. 

Other simple measures to assist are:

  • Practice good hand hygiene – wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, particularly after going to the toilet and before eating food. Alcohol based hand rub is an acceptable alternative
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing OR cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow. Encourage others to do the same. Make sure you put the tissue into a bin and then wash your hands afterwards
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands
  • Where possible, keep 1.5m away from people who have a respiratory illness.

Updated: 16 July 2020
Source: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Lucille Ridley Group Infection Control Coordinator

About the Author

Lucille Ridley is the St John of God Health Care Infection Prevention and Control Manager. She is registered nurse and midwife with more than 30 years' experience across the private and public health care sector.