Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): What You Need to Know About Its Impact on Moms and Babies

Key Points

Key Points

Coronavirus disease 2019, also called COVID-19, is caused by a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

If you’re pregnant or were recently pregnant, you’re more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19 compared to people who are not pregnant. I’s especially important for people who are pregnant or were recently pregnant to take steps to protect themselves from COVID-19.

The best way to protect yourself, your baby and others from COVID-19 is to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Data shows that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for pregnant people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant or might become pregnant in the future get vaccinated and stay up to date on booster shots.

Updated December 8, 2022

How does COVID-19 spread?

The COVID-19 virus spreads when an infected person breathes out respiratory droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. It can spread by:

  • Breathing in air close to an infected person
  • Having the small droplets and particles containing the virus land on your eyes, nose or mouth, especially when an infected person coughs or sneezes
  • Touching your eyes, nose or mouth when your hands have the virus on them

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The symptoms of COVID-19 may be similar to symptoms of the flu, including these possible symptoms listed on the CDC website. Symptoms can be mild or severe. They can appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Some people with COVID-19 have no symptoms.

Who is at a higher risk for severe illness?

You are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 if you:

  • Are pregnant or were recently pregnant
  • Are an older adult, especially age 50 or older
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have certain health conditions

What are COVID-19 variants?

Viruses often change through mutations. Mutations can create variants, which are different versions of a virus. Sometime variants disappear, and other times they spread.

There are several variants of the COVID-19 virus, including the Alpha variant, the Delta variant, the Omicron variant and Omicron subvariants (also called lineages or sublineages). COVID-19 vaccines are important for limiting the spread of the virus and its variants. Getting vaccinated and staying up to date on vaccines is the best way to protect yourself, your baby and others.

CDC tracks COVID-19 variants and provides the latest information here.

How can you protect yourself from COVID-19?

Here are the best ways to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19:

  • Get the COVID-19 vaccine and stay up to date on booster shots.
  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid crowded places and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, especially if you are at higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19.
  • Know when to wear facemasks. Facemasks help protect you and those around you from COVID-19. You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you don’t feel sick. Facemasks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or unable to take off the mask without help.
  • Monitor your health daily. Test for COVID-19 if you have symptoms. There are self-tests you can take at home, or you can get tested at a medical facility or testing site.
  • Keep up with your routine vaccines. Vaccines are an important part of protecting your health. Talk with your provider about which vaccines you should get.
  • Don’t skip your prenatal or postpartum care appointments. Visit your health care provider for all recommended appointments or ask your provider for virtual prenatal visits and off-hour visits for ultrasounds and lab testing.
  • Talk to your health care provider about how to stay healthy and take care of yourself. This includes managing any chronic health condition such as diabetes.

Sometimes vaccinated people can get COVID-19. When a vaccinated person gets infected, it’s called a breakthrough infection. When breakthrough infections happen, they may be milder or have no symptoms. Although vaccinated people can get breakthrough infections, they are much less likely to have serious illness, be hospitalized or die than those who are not vaccinated.

What should you do if you have symptoms or have COVID-19?

If you have a fever, cough or other flu-like symptoms, you may have COVID-19. Call your health care provider and ask what you should do. Your provider may recommend certain treatments, especially if you’re at high risk for serious illness.

If you have mild symptoms, follow these recommendations to care for yourself and avoid spreading the disease to others:

  • Test for COVID-19. There are self-tests you can take at home, or you can get tested at a medical facility or testing site.
  • Monitor your symptoms. If you notice any of the following signs and symptoms, get medical care right away:
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Constant pain or pressure in the chest
    • Unable to wake or stay awake
    • Feeling confused
    • Gray or bluish lips or face
  • Stay home, except to get medical care. If you go to a medical facility, call before you arrive to let them know that you have or may have COVID-19.
  • If possible, separate yourself from other people who live in your home. Stay in a specific room and away from other people and pets who live in your home. Use a separate bathroom if possible.
  • Wear a facemask if you must be around other people or animals.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into your arm. Throw used tissues in the trash, and wash your hands.
  • Take care of yourself. Get rest and drink plenty of fluids.

When can you be around others after having COVID-19?

To find out when or for how long you need to quarantine or isolate, visit the CDC’s latest guidelines for quarantine and isolation.

What treatments are available for COVID-19?

If you have COVID-19 and are at high risk for severe illness or hospitalization, your provider may recommend certain treatments to help reduce these risks. These medicines are most effective when started within a few days after symptoms begin. Available treatments include:

  • Antiviral medicines. These prescription medicines can help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the body. These medicines include Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) and Lagevrio (molnupiravir), which are both taken orally (by mouth). Lagevrio (molnupiravir) is not safe for pregnant people as it may increase the risk for birth defects.
  • Monoclonal antibody treatments. These treatments can help the immune system recognize and respond more effectively to the virus. They are given intravenously (also called IV) or through an injection. An IV is when medicine is given through a needle into a vein.

If you have COVID-19, talk to your provider about treatment options.

WHAT PREGNANT AND BREASTFEEDING PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW

Check out COVID-19 Things to know if you're pregnant fact sheet. (English, PDF)

Additional versions of this fact sheet are available in Chinese SimplifiedChinese TraditionalHindiHmongVietnameseArabicFarsiHYE (Armenian)KoreanPunjabiRussianSomaliSpanish, Tagalog, and Mixteca Baja.

COVID Things to Know Infographic

Translated documents are courtesy of Anthem.

What complications can COVID-19 cause for you or your baby?

Pregnancy causes changes in the body that could make it easier to get very sick from respiratory viruses like the one that causes COVID-19. Pregnant people and those who were recently pregnant face increased risks if they get COVID-19. These risks include:

  • Higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19
  • More likely to be admitted to the hospital or the intensive care unit (ICU)
  • More likely to need a ventilator or special equipment to help them breathe
  • Higher risk of preterm birth and stillbirth
  • There may be a higher risk of other pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia/eclampsia, blood clots, bleeding problems after birth, heart problems and cesarean (C-section) birth.

Other factors can further increase the risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 for pregnant people and those who were recently pregnant. These factors include:

  • Having certain chronic health conditions
  • Being older than age 25
  • Living or working in a community with high numbers of COVID-19 cases or low levels of COVID-19 vaccination
  • Being part of a racial or ethnic group that experiences social and health disparities

Babies of pregnant people with COVID-19 may have more complications before and after birth, including being admitted to neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In addition, high fevers caused by any infection during the first trimester of pregnancy can increase the risk of certain birth defects.

Read more from the CDC about pregnancy and COVID-19.

Can you give COVID-19 to your baby during pregnancy?

Most newborns born to people who have COVID-19 won’t get the virus. Some newborns have tested positive for the virus shortly after birth. However, it’s not clear whether these babies got the virus before, during or after birth.

Some research suggests that pregnant people who have COVID-19 may pass on COVID-19 antibodies to their newborns. The CDC recommends testing all newborns for COVID-19 who are born to people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Data shows that symptoms of COVID-19 may be less severe in babies and children than in adults, but some babies and children can get very sick from COVID-19. Babies younger than one year of age are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 than older children.

Children who are immunocompromised or who have certain medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. The CDC and others are investigating a rare but serious medical condition associated with COVID-19 in children called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). We do not yet know what causes MIS-C and who is at increased risk for developing it. Learn more about MIS-C.

How can you get ready for labor and delivery?

  • Call your hospital or birth center and ask them about any restrictions they have on the number of support persons (e.g. doula, spouses, family) allowed in the room during labor and delivery.
  • Update your Birth Plan by using our template here. Additional versions of this Birth Plan are available in Chinese SimplifiedChinese TraditionalHindiHmongVietnameseArabicFarsiHYE (Armenian)KoreanPunjabiRussianSomaliSpanish, TagalogMixtec(Translated documents are courtesy of Anthem.)
  • If you’re in labor and you have COVID-19, or you think may have COVID-19, call the hospital before you go so the staff can properly prepare and protect your baby and others from being infected.

Can you breastfeed if you have COVID-19?

Yes. Research shows that the breast milk of people with COVID-19 is not likely to spread the virus to babies. Breast milk has these benefits:

  • Breast milk is the best food for babies in the first year of life. It helps them grow healthy and strong and protects them from infections and illness.
  • Breast milk has antibodies that help protect your baby from many illnesses. Antibodies are cells in the body that fight off infection. Breastfed babies have fewer health problems than babies who aren’t breastfed.
  • Research shows that the breast milk of people with COVID-19 may contain COVID-19 antibodies.
  • Research shows that breastfeeding people who get the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine have COVID-19 antibodies in their breastmilk. The antibodies in your breastmilk may help protect your baby against COVID-19.

If you have COVID-19 are breastfeeding or using a breast pump to express your milk:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before breastfeeding or using the pump.
  • Consider having a healthy caregiver feed the expressed breast milk to your baby.
  • Follow recommendations to clean the pump properly after each use.

How can pregnant people and new parents deal with stress from COVID-19?

Caring for a new baby when concerned about COVID-19 while also feeling sore, tired and stressed can be a lot to handle. But there are several things you can do to care for yourself:

  • Limit the time you spend watching or listening to news stories or going on social media to help reduce anxiety.
  • Keep in touch with people you care about and who care about you. Tell your partner, family members and friends how you’re feeling.
  • Maintain a routine. Every day, take a shower, eat healthy foods and regular meals, drink plenty of water and get a good night’s sleep.
  • Know you are not alone. Staying connected with friends and family in a virtual way is important. Reach out, share your story and talk to other expecting and new parents online. Visit share.marchofdimes.org to learn more.
  • Tell your provider if you feel very sad or depressed. Your provider may be able to help connect you with a social worker, counselor or therapist who offers teletherapy or other mental health services. Or contact the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

COVID-19 VACCINES

CDC recommends that all people ages 6 months and older get the COVID-19 vaccine. This recommendation includes getting booster shots when it’s time to get one. Research has shown that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in all eligible age groups. Here’s what you need to know:

  • COVID-19 vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.
  • COVID-19 vaccines do not cause COVID-19 infection. None of the COVID-19 vaccines contain a live virus.
  • There’s no evidence that the antibodies your body makes after getting the COVID-19 vaccine can cause any problem with pregnancy, including these issues:
    • No higher risk of miscarriage. Research has shown no increased risk for miscarriage (pregnancy loss before 20 weeks) in pregnant people who receive the mRNA vaccine.
    • No association with preterm birth. A large study from the CDC found no relationship between COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy and preterm birth. The study also found that there is no increased risk of having a baby small for gestational age (SGA). A baby who is SGA didn’t gain the right amount of weight before birth.
    • No fertility problems. COVID-19 vaccines are not associated with fertility problems in women or men.
  • There’s no need to delay pregnancy after getting the vaccine.
  • The FDA and CDC have systems in place to monitor safety in pregnant people who get the COVID-19 vaccine. You can enroll in safety monitoring systems such as the CDC’s V-safe program, which is a smartphone-based, after-vaccination health checker.

Learn more about available vaccines on the CDC’s website.

Potential benefits for babies

  • Research has shown that pregnant people who get the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine pass COVID-19 antibodies to their babies. These antibodies may help protect babies from COVID-19. Studies also have shown that the breast milk of people who get the vaccine may contain COVID-19 antibodies.
  • Several studies show that mRNA vaccination during pregnancy may help prevent hospitalization with COVID-19 in babies younger than 6 months old.

Doses and boosters

  • Be sure to follow the recommended dosing schedule for the vaccine you receive.
  • People who are immunocompromised may have less protection against COVID-19 and may get very sick if they get infected. People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised need an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccines to be fully vaccinated. Visit the CDC’s website to learn more.
  • COVID-19 boosters are shown to increase protection against COVID-19 and reduce the risk of serious illness. Updated booster shots (called bivalent boosters) protect against both the original COVID-19 virus and several Omicron variants. CDC recommends that everyone ages 5 and older get an updated booster.

Visit the CDC’s website to learn more about vaccine doses, boosters and their timing.

Side effects

  • After you get the vaccine, you may have some side effects. Side effects may feel like you have the flu and may affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days. This is a normal sign that your body is building protection.
  • So far, millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been given in the U.S. Some people have had no side effects. Many people have had mild side effects. The CDC reports that severe reactions are rare.

If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, talk to your provider.

Read March of Dimes's statement on COVID-19 Vaccination and Pregnant and Lactating People.

WHAT FAMILIES WITH A BABY IN THE NICU NEED TO KNOW

Each hospital has specific rules about who and how many people can be in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at one time. Ask the NICU staff about these rules and make sure you follow them.

The stress of having a baby in the NICU may be increased by the pandemic and possible restrictions on being with your baby. But there are several things you can do to care for yourself:

  • Know you’re not alone. Share your story and talk with other NICU families online. Click here to learn more.
  • If you have or think you may have COVID-19, you may not be able to be with your baby. Temporary separation may be needed to avoid getting your baby sick. Ask about what rules are in place to protect your baby from getting COVID-19. If you and your baby can be together, wash your hands thoroughly and wear a facemask before and while spending time with your baby to reduce the chances of getting your baby infected. If you can’t be in the NICU, ask the NICU staff about ways to connect with your baby during this time.
  • If you are temporarily separated from your baby and you want to breastfeed, you can express breast milk for your baby. Talk with your NICU about any rules you need to follow.  

How can you help older children cope?

You may wonder how you’re going to help your children cope when you’re having trouble coping yourself. You may also wonder how you will find time for your other children when your baby needs you, too. Here are some things you can do to help your older children:

  • Be honest with them. Your older children may have a lot of questions but may not know how to ask them. Tell them what’s going on with you and with the baby in words they can understand.
  • Calm your children’s worries. Some children are scared that their parents will love them less now that the new baby is here. Tell your children that you love them very much and describe what makes them special. If they’re old enough, you can talk with them about COVID-19 and how it’s affecting your family’s routine.
  • Create an activity that will help them feel part of their sibling’s care. Below are some activities your children can do at home to help care for the baby while they’re in the NICU. Ask your NICU staff before bringing any items into the NICU:
    • Color pictures to put up near the baby’s bed.
    • Pick a favorite photo of themselves or the family to have near the baby’s bed.
    • Put together a photo album of pictures of the baby.
    • Create a storybook about the birth of their baby brother or sister.
    • Help get the nursery ready for when the baby comes home.

STAY IN-THE-KNOW

1. Find the latest information about COVID-19:

  • Follow March of Dimes online for the latest updates and share the information with friends and family. Check out @MarchofDimes and find us on Facebook.
  • Stay up-to-date on upcoming events at marchforbabies.org or by calling us at 888-663-4637.

2. March of Dimes follows the COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations from the CDC. You can view real-time updates on the disease, guidance for pregnant people and travel advisories here.

EXTERNAL RESOURCES

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The World Health Organization

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists

American Academy of Pediatrics

Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs

Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses

Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine