The coronavirus pandemic is causing a lot of stress for many people, not least pregnant women who are due to give birth in the next few weeks or months. What is the risk to pregnant women? What can you do to best prepare for birth at this difficult time? And how do you get through the isolation of lockdown at a time when we so often crave the support of others?
There is no doubt that if there was a time to live through a pandemic, now is the least worst! Access to groups of other women who are also pregnant is easy on social media, and high quality birth and breastfeeding preparation is only a click away. As always, it’s really important to check that the information you’re being given is actually from someone who knows their stuff. Don’t forget to ask people for their qualifications if they are offering to teach you or to if they’re giving advice. Many doulas are switching to online support and it is really worth considering this as an option; they can help you to plan to make your birth as positive as possible even if it’s not exactly what you’d have wanted.
Some hospitals are setting up ways to communicate with your midwife remotely. This is important if you are particularly at risk from coronavirus, for instance if you have an underlying health problem. The good news is that there is currently no evidence that the coronavirus affects pregnant women more seriously than non-pregnant women. It might be that this situation changes as more data comes in, but so far, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology, it appears that there are no additional risks that we know of at the moment1.
Some viruses do affect pregnant women more severely than non-pregnant women. Regular flu, for instance, can sometimes make pregnant women very unwell which is why they are advised to have a flu vaccination. The reason is that our immune systems can be affected by pregnancy, lowering the response of the immune system with the intention of reducing the chance that it will consider the baby to be something ‘alien’ in the body which needs to be removed. This can mean that some infections become more serious. However, the serious effects of some viruses, and this included the SARS virus (another coronavirus), come from the immune system actually going into overdrive (known as a cytokine storm2) and it’s this reaction of the immune system that causes some of the most serious problems, not the virus itself. This is possibly why SARS was particularly serious for healthy people with strong immune systems. It’s possible that pregnant women, with their lowered immune systems, may be less likely to experience a cytokine storm, and therefore, in theory, they may be less likely to have some of the most serious reactions. This is a possible reason why children seem to be less affected than adults by Covid-19, as their immune systems are less strong than those of adults3.
It is important to note that there is no evidence for this one way or another when it comes to COVID-19, but as more data comes in we will begin to get a better picture of how it affects people who are pregnant. In the meantime, it is reasonable to try to ensure that you are as protected as possible from the virus, and this does mean that, where you are able to, follow the self-isolation guidelines as strictly as you can.
What can you do to keep yourself healthy and occupied while you are waiting for your baby? In the UK, unlike some other countries like Spain, people are still able to leave their homes for exercise and it would be a really good idea to do this every day. Spring is coming, and sunshine is good for all of us so try to step out of the door when the sun is out if you can! Stay away from other people and make sure that you wash your hands when you come back into the house, in case you’ve touched a surface with the virus on it.
YouTube has a wonderful collection of exercise programmes that you can do in the house, but do choose ones which are targeted at pregnant women and take it easy!
Connect with other women through social media, but choose carefully. Consider ‘Marie Kondoing’ your social media! Does this person/group/page give you joy or does it/do they have a practical use? If not, why are you using it, or connected to them?! Protect your mental health by being strict about what you access online, and join supportive groups, avoiding negative ones. If anxiety is a problem, try a Mindfulness app such as Rezl, which is currently offering 2000 licenses for free to support people who are struggling with anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic4, and offers wonderful support for everyone even if they’re not feeling anxious.
We are living in challenging times, and there is a lot going on that is beyond our control. I’ll leave you with the wise words of Gandalf, from Lord of the Rings5:
He was replying to Frodo, who said, “I wish it need not have happened in my time,”
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”