By: Sarah Jacoby
If you’re pregnant amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s understandable that you’d be a little extra worried about what the coronavirus means for you. Now new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that some pregnant people with COVID-19 can experience severe symptoms and birth complications.
For the study, researchers looked at data for 598 pregnant women who were hospitalized and tested positive for COVID-19. They found that about 75% of them were hospitalized for labor and delivery reasons, while 19% were hospitalized for COVID-19. A little more than half of the pregnant women (55%) were asymptomaticwhen they were admitted, meaning they didn’t have any noticeable symptoms of the virus. And those who were in their first or second trimester were more likely to have symptoms than those in their third trimester.
Some of the 272 pregnant women who had symptoms did experience severe complications of COVID-19. Specifically, 44 of them were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), 23 needed mechanical ventilation, and two died. No one who was asymptomatic experienced any of these complications.
The researchers also found that the pregnant women who had symptomatic infections were more likely to have negative birth outcomes. Out of 445 pregnant women who had live births, the vast majority (87%) were at term. But of the 13% of births that were preterm, most were to women who had noticeable COVID-19 symptoms. The researchers note that the rate of preterm births among pregnant women with COVID-19 in this study (13%) was higher than that of the general population (10%). There were also two stillbirths in this study, which were both to women who had symptoms.
These results suggest that COVID-19 can impact a pregnancy and even contribute to preterm births, especially if the infection comes with symptoms. However, those with asymptomatic coronavirus infections may not be at the same risk for poor outcomes. And this study can’t establish whether or not the coronavirus was directly responsible for those negative birth outcomes, only that having COVID-19 in this study was correlated with a higher risk for those outcomes. Ultimately, the authors write, these results underscore just how important it is to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including among pregnant people.
We’re still learning about how being pregnant might affect your risk for COVID-19 complications and how having the coronavirus could affect your pregnancy. Being pregnant does make you more likely to get certain bacterial and viral illnesses, SELF explained previously, but experts don’t know if that’s the case for COVID-19 right now. And according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), there is some data to suggest that people who are pregnant may be at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 complications if they do get the coronavirus.
Those risks are especially serious for people who are Black, Asian, or Latinx, ACOG says. This effect is likely caused by systemic issues, like economic and social inequities, not biological differences, ACOG says. That’s partly because Black women in the U.S. are already at a significantly higher risk for pregnancy complications and COVID-19 complications compared to white people, SELF explained previously. However, this new study did not break down its results by race.
This study is also only a small sample of the hospitalized pregnant women with COVID-19 in the U.S. at the time, so it may not be a full representation of the risks people in this category face. The authors also note that the data may have missed some COVID-19 cases that should have been included due to the limitations in testing. And the data did not include any information about underlying health conditions that could have factored into the results (although a separate CDC study does suggest that gestational diabetes and obesity may be risk factors).
Overall, this study is a reminder that everyone—pregnant or not—needs to be focused on how they can prevent themselves and others from getting the coronavirus because we’re still learning so much about the ways it can affect us. If you are pregnant, the authors stress that prevention for you should include maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask when in public, washing your hands frequently, and keeping up regular prenatal appointments with your obstetrician.