COVID-19 may cause severe illness during pregnancy

October 14, 2020

Updated November 25, 2020

As we face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing infections is more important than ever – especially for pregnant people.

Research shows that pregnant people may have some higher risks related to COVID-19:

  • Pregnant people have a higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people. According to recent data, there is an increased risk for deaths in pregnant people with COVID-19 than non-pregnant people. Recent CDC data showed that symptomatic pregnant women with COVID-19 had a 70% higher risk of death compared to non-pregnant women.
  • Pregnant people who are older, have a higher body mass index (BMI) or have conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or gestational diabetes may have more severe COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Although some pregnant people with COVID-19 have no symptoms, a recent study shows that some pregnant people with COVID-19 may have symptoms for up to eight weeks or longer.
  • Pregnant people are more likely to be admitted to the hospital and more likely to need care in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) if they have COVID-19 compared to people who are not pregnant. Pregnant people with COVID-19 also may be more likely to need a ventilator to breathe compared with non-pregnant people.
  • People who have COVID-19 may have a higher risk of pregnancy complications, such as  blood clots, injury to the placenta (the placenta grows in the uterus and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord), preterm birth, preeclampsia, emergency Cesarean (c-section) delivery or pregnancy loss.
  • Pregnant people with COVID-19 also may have a higher risk of developing blood clots and heart issues, including slow heart rate.
  • Having children living in the home may make pregnant people at higher risk of getting COVID-19.

How can you protect yourself from COVID-19?

There’s no vaccine approved yet for COVID-19 for pregnant women, but there are ways to protect yourself and your family from exposure to the virus. The best way to prevent getting sick is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Here are some tips to help protect yourself from COVID-19 during pregnancy:

Practice COVID-19 safety and social distancing recommendations:

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t use soap and water, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Limit contact with other people as much as possible.
  • If you need to go out or interact with others:
    • Wear a cloth face cover or a facemask over your nose and mouth.
    • Keep at least 6 feet away from others.
    • Stay away from people who are not wearing a mask.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Every day, clean and disinfect surfaces you frequently touch. 
  • Avoid activities that make safety measures and social distancing difficult. For example, try ordering takeout food instead of going to a restaurant. Try staying connected to friends and family in creative ways, like with video calls, instead of going to a party. Some pregnant people even have had baby showers using video conferencing instead of in-person during the pandemic.

Don’t skip health care appointments:

  • Go to all your prenatal and health care checkups. This is an important part of protecting your health and your baby’s health.
  • Follow the safety recommendations of your provider’s office during your visits. Call the office ahead of your appointment to find out about safety rules. Your provider may:
    • Schedule your visit when only patients who are not sick will be seen
    • Ask you to stay outside (such as in your car) instead of in the waiting room until you are called in for your appointment
    • Take your temperature before you enter the office
    • Require a face covering or facemask during your visit
    • Limit the number of patients in the office
    • Take extra measures to clean and disinfect the office
  • Talk to your health care provider about ways to protect you and your baby from COVID-19.

Stay up to date on vaccines:

  • Make sure your vaccinations are up to date before you get pregnant. A vaccination is a shot that contains a vaccine. A vaccine helps protect you from certain diseases by building immunity in your body.
  • Talk to your provider about the vaccines you need during pregnancy. Do not skip getting vaccinated during the COVID-19 crisis. Vaccines help protect both you and your baby.
  • Get a flu shot. Flu is also called influenza. It’s a serious disease that can cause fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, vomiting and diarrhea. If you get the flu during pregnancy, you’re more likely than women who don’t get it to have serious problems, like preterm labor and preterm birth. Preterm birth is birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy. It’s likely that the flu virus and COVID-19 will both spread this winter, so it’s more important than ever to get a flu shot.

Call your provider right away if you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or if you have any symptoms. The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of the flu. COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Fever or chills
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or a runny nose
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Learn more about pregnancy and COVID-19