Premature babies and COVID-19: What we know

April 28, 2020

Updated November 23, 2020

New research shows that pregnant people who are infected with coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  may have a higher risk of having a preterm baby, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . However, we are still learning how COVID-19 affects preterm babies.

A preterm baby is one who is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm babies may not be fully developed at birth. They may have more health problems and may need to stay in the hospital longer than babies born later. Some may have breathing problems because their lungs are not fully developed.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 for people of all ages include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Mild symptoms to severe illness can appear within 2 to 14 days of being infected. Recent data shows that compared with adults, babies and children generally have less severe COVID-19 symptoms. However, babies less than 1 year old are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 than older children. In rare cases, children can become very sick with COVID-19 and can die.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults. In general, babies and children with COVID-19 may have mild symptoms. Some may not have any symptoms.

COVID-19 symptoms for babies include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Stomachache, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Poor appetite or feeding issues, especially in babies under 1 year old

If your baby has been around someone with COVID-19 or has symptoms of the disease, contact your health care provider immediately. ​​​​Get emergency medical care if your baby has:

  • Seems confused or won’t wake up
  • Looks blue around the nose, lips or on the skin
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Can’t keep liquids down

How can you avoid passing COVID-19 to your baby?

If you have or think you may have COVID-19, your provider may suggest that you stay in a separate room from your baby until the risk of spreading the disease has passed. Researchers are still learning if COVID-19 can pass through breast milk to babies. Most information shows that it is safe to feed breast milk to your baby when you have COVID-19. If you and your baby can be together, take steps to decrease the risk of passing the infection to your baby:

  • Keep your newborn more than 6 feet away from you as much as possible.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before touching your baby. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Wear a face mask when within 6 feet of your baby and especially when breastfeeding. Never cover your baby’s face with a mask.
  • Wash your hands before touching any breast pump or bottle parts.
  • Clean all pump and bottle parts after use.
  • Consider having someone who is not sick feed your breast milk to your baby after you pump.

How do you know if your baby has COVID-19?

Experts don’t know if babies born prematurely are at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 than other children. Some studies show that newborns may become infected with COVID-19 after close contact with someone with the virus or someone who has the virus but has no symptoms.

Your baby may be diagnosed with COVID-19 if he has:

  • At least one of the symptoms listed above
  • An abnormal chest X-ray
  • Been around someone with COVID-19

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