Can Pregnant Women Transmit Coronavirus to Their Babies?

09 June, 2020
The few scientific studies conducted so far on gestation and COVID-19 don't suggest that pregnant women can transmit the coronavirus to their babies. We'll tell you the latest research in this article.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought with it certain cases that require further investigation. One question that arose at the beginning of the outbreak was whether it’s true that pregnant women transmit coronavirus to their babies.

Previous experiences with epidemics and pandemics alerted the scientific community from the outset. Many viral diseases that cause respiratory illness have a higher incidence among pregnant women and their fetuses. The two previous outbreaks of coronavirus, in 2002-2003 and 2012-2013, didn’t cause transmission from mother to fetus, but there were complications in some pregnancies. During these epidemics, infected pregnant women were at greater risk of miscarriage than other pregnant women.

Similarly, when the H1N1 influenza pandemic occurred in 2009, pregnant women were a high-risk group. Quarantine and special measures were immediately recommended, and doctors recommended that they give birth by Cesarean section rather than by natural birth.

Based on everything that we’ve mentioned so far, Chinese scientific study centers investigated whether pregnant women can transmit the coronavirus to their babies. The first results, even though they used a limited target group, indicate that there’s no vertical transmission.

What is vertical transmission?

To understand whether pregnant women can transmit the coronavirus to their babies, we need to understand how a mother and baby communicate during pregnancy. It’s this intimate connection that could, in theory, transfer the virus from one body to another.

The fetus communicates with the mother through the umbilical cord and the placenta. This connection carries nutrients from the mother’s blood to the developing child. Substances and bacteria also circulate through it.

Vertical transmission occurs when a pathogen passes from the mother to the fetus, through this placental connection, during the pregnancy. The most current and widespread example of this is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

However, vertical transmission isn’t the only way that mother-baby contagion can occur. During natural childbirth, the fetus can be infected by the mother’s infections when it comes into contact with the mucous membranes of the reproductive system. We know this as perinatal transmission.

Finally, once outside the mother’s body, breast milk is another transmission route. However, this doesn’t apply to all bacteria or viruses. In those that are contagious, doctors instruct the mother not to breastfeed and to use formula milk instead.

A fetus in the womb.
Vertical transmission refers to transmission from the mother to the fetus through the placental unit.

Read more: Is it Possible to Be Reinfected by Coronavirus?

The initial study to find out whether pregnant women transmit coronavirus

In Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus pandemic began, researchers carried out the first investigations. Researchers tested pregnant women in Union Hospital infected with SARS-CoV-2, along with their children.

First of all, the newborns of these mothers had no symptoms of the coronavirus. None of them had a fever, nor did they have bouts of coughing. However, by protocol, the doctors isolated the infants from birth to observe their evolution. They tested them for COVID-19, with negative results in 100% of the infants.

One of the infants had a respiratory complication. Others developed skin rashes during their hospitalization. However, because of negative results for coronavirus infection, the researchers say that we can’t link these symptoms to SARS-CoV-2. Nevertheless, we still need more extensive research to either confirm this or rule it out.

Hospital restricitions.
The pregnant women in the study and their babies were isolated as a precaution.

Find out more: Washing Your Hands: Coronavirus’s Biggest Enemy

Pregnant women and anti-coronavirus measures

Although studies suggest that pregnant women can’t transmit the coronavirus to their babies, preventive measures are inescapable for them as well. They must respect quarantine and social isolation, just as others do. Also, some countries increased restrictions for them due to safety procedures, which are always taken in cases regarding pregnancies. They were given work permits and were prohibited from attending crowded places.

It’s important for pregnant women to be able to easily contact their gynecologists remotely. This way, they’ll avoid attending health centers where they could become infected.

Although there’s no confirmed vertical transmission, a pregnant woman can still contract a serious form of COVID-19 and this could create complications in her pregnancy. For this reason, prevention is important in pregnant women, especially if they have a medical history of respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

  • Chen, Yan, et al. “Infants Born to Mothers With a New Coronavirus (COVID-19).” Frontiers in Pediatrics 8 (2020): 104.
  • Zesati, Jesús Roberto Villagrana, et al. “Prevención de la transmisión perinatal del virus de la inmunodeficiencia humana•.” Ginecol Obstet Mex 80.1 (2012): 36-40.
  • Segovia-Meza, Gualberto, and I. G. O. R. SEGOVIA-TROCONES. “Nuevo coronavirus evidencias para su control en gestantes y niños.” Revista Médica Panacea 9.1 (2020): 67-70.
  • Navarro, Gimeno, and Jose Manuel Martín Morales. “MANEJO DEL RIESGO DE CONTAGIO POR CORONAVIRUS EN MADRES Y RECIÉN NACIDOS.” (2020).