Coronavirus: During pregnancy, the baby is protected from Contagion

Suspicions about contagion ‘in utero’ are denied. At the moment, there is still no scientific evidence of vertical transmission of the virus from the future mother to the fetus. In other words, there is no evidence that transmission can occur during pregnancy. Here you have all the information.

A recently registered case in an Italian hospital, which was reported to the media, has raised alarm in the transalpine country on the suspicion that the mother, positive for COVID-19 and asymptomatic, had transmitted the virus to the fetus during pregnancy, through the placental barrier.

However, experts agree that, given the description of the case, it is practically certain that the baby was born healthy and that the infection occurred after birth.

An Exceptional Situation

The protocol followed in the Italian hospital that has registered this case involves a COVID-19 test for all pregnant women at week 32 and then, again, at the time of admission to give birth, in order to determine which circuit they must continue once in the hospital centre (one circuit for positives and one for negatives).

  • Non-infected women give birth in the usual way, accompanied by the couple, if they wish, as long as there are no suspicious symptoms.
  • In contrast, positive pregnant women should wear a mask during dilation and delivery. In turn, the health personnel assisting the delivery must also wear protective devices.
  • The mother of the baby whose case has jumped to the media, who was asymptomatic, gave birth before term by means of an emergency caesarean section. Therefore, she had not undergone the double coronavirus test, but only one at the time of admission, the result of which was not obtained until 12 hours after the baby was born. What happened?
  • During this time, the baby had been in contact with the mother skin to skin, without the protection of the mask.
  • When the mother’s positive result was obtained, the test was carried out on the newborn, who also tested positive.
  • However, no umbilical cord blood samples were collected at the time of delivery, which could demonstrate or deny the hypothesis of contagion during pregnancy.
  • Now, both mom and baby are well and cured but remain under surveillance in the hospital.

New Studies and Conclusions

Although different anecdotal episodes such as this have been described since the start of the pandemic, to date, there is no certain evidence that the virus can cross the placenta and infect the baby during pregnancy.

  • In all the reported cases of positive newborns, the test was performed at a distance of hours from the moment of birth, when the little one had already been in contact with several people, potential sources of infection.
  • However, it should be noted that the data available on the behaviour of this virus are still very limited. It is too soon to have complete security, so studies are still being carried out in this regard.

The Risk of Contagion During and After Delivery

If at the moment there is no evidence of infection in pregnancy, the possibility that the mother will infect the child during delivery remains on the table. Theoretically, the transmission could occur during the baby’s passage through the birth canal, in contact with vaginal secretions, but there is no evidence yet to support this hypothesis.

The virus has not been detected in vaginal swabs done on women who give birth. It is present in the faeces, which is why water births have been cancelled in women positive for Coronavirus.

It is also present in the secretions of the nose and mouth of the woman, so the positive mother is recommended to wear a mask throughout the duration of dilation and the expulsive phase of labour, as well as in contact skin to skin and lactation.

In addition, the mother is recommended to wash her hands carefully and to respect all the preventive measures established when caring for the child.

Severe Forms, Less Frequent in Children

Based on past experience, it appears that children are less exposed than adults to the risk of severe forms of the infection.

Is it possible that the positive mom transmits to the fetus the antibodies produced by her immune system in response to the coronavirus and that the little one is immune at birth?

  • The specialists’ response to this doubt is that there is still no evidence on this aspect in the case of COVID-19.
  • On the other hand, the milk of positive mothers contains antibodies against the coronavirus, but it is still unknown whether in sufficient quantity to immunize the baby.
  • Of course, the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks, even when the mother is positive, taking the appropriate precautions.
  • In fact, the WHO recommends that, even in these circumstances, skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding be encouraged, if the woman wishes and her health conditions allow it.
  • In case the mother is not able to breastfeed directly, or the newborn is separated from the mother, the use of expressed fresh breast milk is recommended.

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