The coronavirus outbreak is a source of stress for many parents who wonder what it might mean for their kids. And it can be particularly scary for two groups: Soon-to-be parents and moms and dads who have brand new babies at home.
For good reason. New babies have new immune systems, and even mild infections can be a big deal. If a baby under two months old develops a fever of more than 100.4 degrees, it warrants an immediate trip to the ER. And pregnant women are also known to be more susceptible to certain types of illnesses, which can have implications for themselves and their little ones on the way.
Pregnant? Have a newborn at home? Here are the basics on COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
First, there is a lot we don’t know.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, we simply don’t have much scientific research telling us whether pregnant women are more susceptible to the coronavirus — or whether they’re more likely to come down with more serious symptoms. We don’t know if the virus increases risk for preterm birth, miscarriage or possible birth defects.
Of course, this isn’t especially helpful if you’re pregnant and freaking out.
So here’s what we can say. In general, pregnant women do undergo immune changes that can make them more susceptible to respiratory infections. Those changes can also mean pregnant women get sicker than they usually would.
That said, the limited information that has come out of China is potentially heartening.
“One small study that compared pregnant women who came down with coronavirus with others who came down with it found that they generally weren’t any sicker ... which is slightly reassuring,” said Dr. Jessica Madden, an Ohio-based pediatrician and medical director of Aeroflow Breastpumps. She also pointed to a recent case study looking at nine women who had coronavirus during pregnancy whose babies were born healthy and symptom-free — although she stressed again that the available research is just pretty darn thin.
If you’re not feeling well, you should absolutely talk to your doctor or midwife about it.
“It’s always important for pregnant women to report any fevers [or] respiratory symptoms — cough, shortness of breath, etc. — to your OB for your further evaluation,” said Dr. Natali Aziz, an OB-GYN at Stanford Health Care. “Most likely, symptoms will be due to other viruses.”
However, if you have symptoms and also have other risk factors — like if you’ve traveled to an affected region — you should be tested for COVID-19, Aziz said.
If you’re planning on breastfeeding, go for it.
Yet again, the official word from the CDC at this point is that we simply don’t know if the coronavirus is spread through breastmilk. However, experts say that is not actually their primary concern right now — probably because in the limited cases they’ve looked at so far, there’s been no evidence of the virus in the breastmilk of women who have COVID-19. Instead, doctors are more focused on the potential risk of a mother who is infected with the virus transferring it to her baby via respiratory droplets. Of course, this could also happen when feeding a baby via bottle.
“Ultimately, this is a case of 'you do you.' Set boundaries that make you comfortable — and don’t feel for a second like you have to justify them.”
Basically, there is no reason at this point to change any of your infant feeding plans.
“Knowing what we know about other viral illnesses, I would strongly encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding,” said Madden. In part, that’s because breastfeeding generally helps babies’ immune systems.
However, experts do now say that women who have the virus should wear a face mask around their babies.
Hand wash, hand wash, hand wash.
Yes, you’ve heard that advice in every single news item you’ve seen or read about coronavirus. Here it is again.
“It is not an exaggeration that most viruses are avoidable with good hand washing,” said Dr. Anita Juvvadi, a pediatrician with Stanford Children’s Health. “How do you think doctors and nurses stay healthy?”
That directive goes for parents and anyone else who even thinks about coming close to a newborn, older siblings included.
“Of course, all visitors must wash hands before picking baby up,” said Juvvadi.
She said that generally speaking, “young visitors” — like lovable, eager toddlers who may not fully grasp the concept of good hand hygiene — should kiss a baby’s feet, but not their hands or face.
You get to make the call on visitors and public spaces — no one else.
Here’s the good news: “Eliminating visits [from] healthy individuals is not recommended by physicians and the CDC,” Aziz said.
So symptom-free visitors are perfectly OK, as is taking your baby out into the world — with the usual precautions.
“The fresh air would be good for baby and new parents,” Juvvadi said. “Our standard recommendations are to stay away from malls [and] grocery stores with a newborn anyway ... until baby is at least a month old and has built some immunity.”
But while physicians and medical groups aren’t necessarily advising parents keep their babies away from visitors and crowds, this is a case of “you do you.” Set boundaries that make you comfortable — and don’t feel for a second like you have to justify them. If you’re wary of having people over, maybe meet them outside, so you’re not in a confined space. Or set some ground rules around kissing. Or just say no to visitors altogether.
“You have the power. If you know your uncle’s coming to visit and he’s recently been sick, he can’t come visit,” Madden said. “Say there’s a big playdate set for your 3-year-old and a bunch of friends at a bouncy house place and you don’t want to go, don’t go. You might have pressure from family and loved ones to participate, but you don’t have to. That’s one thing you have control over. ”
You’re not being hysterical. You’re parenting.