Maternal transmission of Covid-19 to baby during pregnancy uncommon

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  • Pregnant women diagnosed with Covid-19 may fear passing on the disease to their unborn or newborn babies
  • A team of researchers from a UK university assessed 49 related studies
  • They found that the risk of transmission was very low


Pregnant women concerned about the risk of transmitting Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, to their baby, don’t need to panic. According to a new report from the University of Nottingham in England, transmission of the disease from mother to baby during pregnancy is uncommon.

The researchers also found that babies born vaginally, are breastfed, or allowed contact with their mother were also not at a greater risk of infection. The paper was published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

Caesarean safer?

Vertical transmission, which refers to the transmission of viruses from mother to baby during pregnancy or childbirth, are known to occur with HIV, rubella, and congenital syphilis, among others. However, given that SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus, there is still plenty of ongoing research on its impact on mothers and their newborns.

Since many past studies on the topic of Covid-19 and vertical transmission suggest undergoing a C-section is safer in that it reduces the risk of transmitting the disease from mother to baby, and to isolate the two from each other post-birth and avoid breastfeeding, the team of seven researchers carried out a systematic review of 49 studies on the topic. 

Vaginal birth vs. Caesarean

Their analysis included 666 neonates (newborn babies) and 655 women (some mothers delivered twins). Of the women who gave birth vaginally, it was found that only 2.7%, or eight out of 292, had a baby that tested positive for Covid-19. They also found that those babies that did end up testing positive for Covid-19 were mostly asymptomatic (displaying no symptoms).

A total of 364 women underwent a C-section, and 20 (5.3%) of them had a baby that tested positive for Covid-19, proving that neonatal Covid-19 infection is uncommon, and that infection rates don’t appear to be higher when the baby is born vaginally.

Breastfeeding and contact also safe

According to the report, breastfeeding and allowing contact with the mother immediately after birth also didn’t increase the infection rate.

"There has been a lot of concern around whether pregnant women should be concerned for the health of their babies if they contract Covid-19,” said lead researcher Dr Kate Walker, clinical associate professor in obstetrics in the university’s news release, adding:

"We wanted to look at the outcome for babies whose mothers contracted the virus and see if the route of birth, method of infant feeding and mother/baby interaction increased the risk of babies contracting the virus. From our results, we are satisfied that the chance of newborn infection with Covid-19 is low.

"We would also stress that a vaginal birth and breastfeeding are safe for mothers who find themselves in these circumstances."

Another study, similar results

There are earlier studies published this year that have also looked at pregnancy and the risk of passing on Covid-19 to the baby. Among them is a preliminary study that assessed pregnant women from Wuhan in their third trimester, who had developed pneumonia as a result of infection, Health24 reported.

In this study, six of the nine newborns were tested for presence of the virus through throat swab samples, umbilical cord blood and sampling of amniotic fluid, and results revealed no signs of infection with Covid-19.

READ | Coronavirus in SA: All the confirmed cases

READ | Underlying illnesses and the risk of severe Covid-19, if infected - what a modelling study shows

READ | High levels of stress hormone cortisol linked to Covid-19 deaths

Image: Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

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