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- New research shows how COVID-19 can be especially dangerous for pregnant people.
- A recent report found that maternal deaths rose 14 percent during the pandemic.
- Pregnancy can create unique stressors on the body, including a compromised immune system.
It’s well known that people who are pregnant are more susceptible to a number of infectious diseases.
Influenza, malaria, hepatitis E, herpes simplex virus, measles, and smallpox are all known to cause more severe complications in pregnant people than in the general population.
Similarly, pregnant people who contract the novel coronavirus are more at risk of developing severe disease and experiencing pregnancy complications, like preterm birth and preeclampsia.
New research found that maternal deaths rose by 14 percent during the pandemic, from 754 deaths in 2019 to 861 deaths in 2020.
Reports have also shown that pregnant people who develop COVID-19 are more likely to require a ventilator or intensive care.
The risk of complications from COVID-19 has consistently been higher in Black and Hispanic pregnant people.
Why are pregnant people more vulnerable?
According to Dr. Lucky Sekhon, a reproductive endocrinologist in Progyny Provider Network and doctor at Reproductive Medicine Associates of NY, pregnancy puts the body in a state of immunosuppression.
The immune system does this to allow the embryo to implant and establish a pregnancy.
“This means being more susceptible to infections such as viral illnesses and foodborne illnesses. There are also specific types of viruses that can cross the placenta and are known to be associated with impaired fetal development and birth defects,” says Sekhon.
How does COVID-19 impact pregnancy?
Evidence has shown that pregnant people who get COVID-19 have a greater chance of developing more severe disease and are more likely to be hospitalized and require mechanical ventilation.
Their fetuses also face a greater risk of stillbirth, growth issues, and preterm delivery, according to Sekhon.
Recent research found that maternal deaths increased in 2020 by about 14 percent.
Dr. Greg Marchand, a board certified OB-GYN who has studied how COVID-19 affects pregnancy outcomes, said pregnant women with COVID-19 have a 50 percent higher risk of preterm birth.
“Some of this may be because of the necessity to deliver women who may have severe COVID-19 symptoms earlier to help mom recover from the pneumonia,” Marchand said.
Research has found that Black and Hispanic pregnant women are more likely to experience these complications.
Another recent study found that in unvaccinated pregnant people who developed COVID-19, the coronavirus appeared to attack the placenta, which increased the risk for stillbirth.
Still, the vast majority of pregnant people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 do well, says Marchand.
While pregnant people with COVID-19 require hospitalization slightly more frequently than nonpregnant people of the same age and health, they do tend to do better than the average person with a coronavirus infection since they are more likely to be young and healthy, Marchand added.
Marchand said if you’re pregnant and have COVID-19, aim to get plenty of rest, hydrate, and vitamin C.
The vaccines, if given before coronavirus infection in pregnancy, can also help prevent infection and more severe symptoms.
The immunity conferred from the vaccines can also cross the placenta and help protect newborns from COVID-19 post-delivery.
“There is a wide body of evidence demonstrating the safety of certain vaccines to both mother and baby and the potential benefits, such as conferring immunity and lowering the risk of serious disease in the neonate,” Sekhon said. “The COVID vaccine has been approved and is encouraged in pregnant and nursing mothers.”
The bottom line
Pregnant people are more at risk of complications from numerous infectious diseases, from influenza and measles to smallpox and herpes.
Similarly, pregnant people who contract the coronavirus have a higher chance of pregnancy complications since pregnancy essentially puts the body in an immunocompromised state.
Recent research found that maternal deaths rose by 14 percent during the pandemic. The COVID-19 vaccines are the safest and most effective way for pregnant people to protect themselves and their fetuses from complications associated with COVID-19.