COVID-19 to Bring Health Risks in Pregnant Women

COVID-19 took the lives of many people around the world, counting around 6.72 million deaths around the globe. Although many can get through the virus with proper rest and some medication, the virus can bring serious health risks to others, especially to pregnant women- and their babies.

Research from 12 different countries, including the United States, suggests that pregnant women and their babies are more vulnerable to COVID-19 risks. Approximately 13,000 pregnant women participated in the study, including 2,000 who have or possibly have contracted the virus.

The results of those women and babies were contrasted to the rest, who tested negative for COVID-19 or already had antibodies during their births. The study revealed that around 3 percent of pregnant women with the virus required intensive care, and around 4 percent needed critical care. This result was significantly higher than those who did not have COVID-19.

Those who were not infected were 4 times less likely to need intensive care. Those who tested positive were 15 times more prone to need ventilation and 7 times more likely to die. On top of these results, the also had increased risks for preeclampsia, blood clots, and high blood pressure problems. Babies born to moms with the virus also had heightened risk of preterm birth and lower weights.

"We found that women who have Covid in pregnancy are at greater risk of ending up in the intensive care unit or even dying or having some pregnancy-related problems like pre-eclampsia, as compared to their peers who were pregnant at the same time but didn’t get Covid," said Dr Emily Smith, an assistant professor of global health at George Washington University in Washington DC lead study author.

"We also find that [for] mums who had Covid in pregnancy, their babies were more likely to be born too soon, or pre-term, and the babies had an increased risk of ending up in the neonatal intensive care unit. The implications here are that it’s really important if you are pregnant, or you’re thinking about becoming pregnant, to get vaccinated. This can really reduce the risk of having some of these bad outcomes for mum or for baby," continued Smith.

Prior study proposed that COVID-19 might jeopardize babies, enlarging the risk of stillbirth. This particular study, however, did not find parallel results.

Is the risk constant throughout the world?

Research findings suggest that pregnancy can be heavily affected by COVID-19. "It’s very clear and even it’s consistent, you know, whether we’re talking about Sweden where we have really generally great pregnancy outcomes to other countries that you know, have bigger problems with maternal morbidity and mortality, that having COVID and pregnancy increases risk for both mom and baby," said Smith.

The research does provide some warnings regarding limitations about the findings for those with the Omicron variant. The study first began during early pandemic, when people were mostly unvaccinated and staying home. This can suggest that participants in the study were at a higher risk not just due to their pregnancy, but also because the virus was new and no one had prior immunity.

As time went by, many individuals, including pregnant women, got vaccinated and tested positive for the virus. In January 2023, around 72 percent of pregnant individuals in the United States had a series of vaccines and 95 percent of Americans already contracted the virus at least once, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This can mean more immunity against the virus, leading to less risks.

How important is COVID-19 vaccination?

Getting vaccinated is one of the easiest ways to prevent yourself if you contract the virus. "It’s worth it to protect yourself in pregnancy," Smith said. "And so that’s kind of the complementary story."

Besides protecting pregnant women and their babies, study also shows that COVID-19 vaccination can diminish the risk of hospitalization of babies within the first six weeks of birth. This decreased risk may derive from antibodies produced by the vaccine, transmitting from the mother to the womb.

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