Coronavirus Risk Causes Anxiety in Expectant Mothers

Apr 24, 2020

While pregnancy may seem to be an "underlying condition" that may be exacerbated by the coronavirus, a Columbia obstetrician says that in reality, pregnant women are at no greater risk to catch the virus than anyone else.
Credit Government of Alberta [CC0 1.0] via Flickr

Everyone is taking extra precautions to avoid the risk of getting the coronavirus and its resulting disease, COVID-19.  But one group of people seems especially fearful of getting the virus:  expectant mothers.  Dr. Stephanie Berg, a Prisma Health psychiatrist who treats pregnant and post-partum mothers with depression and anxiety, said pregnancy and anxiety go hand in hand, but now she's seeing normal nerves shift into concern about getting the coronavirus.

"Women are tending to worry about the virus, the isolation with delivery and the isolation post-partum, the financial impact.  We are absolutely seeing an increased amount of anxiety in pregnancy with the pandemic." 

But there's one piece of good news offered by Dr. Berry Campbell, a Columbia OB-GYN who takes care of high risk pregnant women.  Despite the worries of mothers-to-be that are heightened by the spread of the virus, he said it doesn't seem to attack pregnant women at any greater rate than anybody else, even though being pregnant is a naturally immuno-compromised state. 

But doctors keep warning us about the dangers of getting the virus when one has an "underlying condition."  Wouldn't being pregnant qualify?

"Common sense would say yes," said Campbell.  "But in reality, it doesn't appear so.   Now, you take a pregnant woman with a true underlying condition like high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, now that's a different story.  That does pose a greater risk for that mom should she get the infection. "  But simply being pregnant doesn't seem to increase the risk of getting it.

According to Berg, a problem that has arisen is that some women are not going to their OB appointments like they should, for fear of getting the virus from someone in the office around them.  But that gives way to another piece of good news, thanks to technology.  "One of the huge benefits, if you could say there's a benefit to this horrible situation, is the increased availability of telemedicine," which uses technologies like Zoom, Skype and others to allow face-to-face talks with the doctor from a remote distance.  "It's phenomenal.  I have seen four new pregnant patients in the last week that I wouldn't have been able to see otherwise if I weren't able to do telepsychiatry." 

Still more comfort is that studies show that telemedicine is just as effective as an in-person visit with the doctor, said Berg.  

One great concern that lingers, however, is if the mother does contract COVID-19, will the baby be affected?  So far, that's rare, said Campbell.

"There have been a lot of cases where moms have been affected, they've delivered, and the amniotic fluid and the baby test negative immediately.  Our real concern is person-to-person transmission.  So it's not so much baby getting it in utero, it's after delivery."

This concern has caused some to suggest separating the mother and baby after the birth, which is a controversial topic in medicine, said Campbell.  But if care is taken, he said breastfeeding can be done even if the mother has the virus.

"Breast feeding is not only safe, it's benficial for baby, because baby can get antibodies from mom's breast milk that help fight the virus or help protect the baby from the virus.  So it's good in many ways for the baby." 

Berg added that care must be taken with all recommendations for isolation to avoid transmission of COVID-19, to make sure that pregnant women and new mothers do not become isolated emotionally.

Campbell said that if something good can come of the coronavirus pandemic, it's  that it's preparing physicians to deal with similar situations more aggressively early on, resulting in better patient care in the future.