BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 virus made its way into headlines and into our lives.
During that time, we’ve learned a lot about the virus, but there’s still much we don’t know. With that in mind, many expecting mothers may be scared about the question: What if I get it?
“It was kinda a weird environment in the delivery ward because it was very quiet. Everyone was just in their rooms not being able to move around,” said new mother, Julia Marquez.
Marquez became pregnant early on in the pandemic, so her entire experience as a first-time expecting mother was shadowed by COVID-19 protocols. While she’s happy to have a healthy baby girl now, she was worried during her pregnancy of missing out on experiences most first-time mothers look forward to, a feeling not lost on other first-time mothers.
“As far as like doctors appointments, my husband wasn’t allowed in any of them except for our 20-week anatomy scan where you can tell if it's a boy or a girl,” said first-time mother Sarena Hess.
Hess said while she’s happy to have a healthy new baby, she feels a sense of loss because she knows her experience with her first pregnancy was muddled with lockdowns, lonely doctors visits, and questions.
“I think for me going through the pandemic while pregnant,” she said. “It was just really scary with all the unknowns.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — between January 2020 to August 2021 — there have been over 107,000 pregnant women in the U.S. who have come down with COVID-19 during their pregnancy.
So what are some of the dangers of getting COVID-19 during your pregnancy?
The CDC has reported that out of 107,532 women in the U.S. who’ve contracted COVID-19 while pregnant, 128 have died.
“There is an increased risk in mother to get COVID-19 pneumonia and get worse, number one, number two — pre-term birth,” said Dr. Jigisha Upadhyaya, OBGYN and Department Chief at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield. “To save the mom, we have to deliver the baby because it reduces the strain on the heart and the lungs.”
Hospital officials with Dignity Health Mercy and Memorial Hospitals said they’re seeing more and more delivering mothers positive for the virus. Dr. Upadhyaya said in her experience during this most recent wave of COVID-19 cases, she’s delivered infants to at least four or five COVID-positive mothers.
For Hess, she said during the pandemic, it wasn’t a matter of if she would get COVID-19, but when.
“What I saw was if it’s so easily contagious, you’re probably going to get it,” she said.
Hess found herself testing positive for the virus late in her pregnancy. She said she tested positive at 38 weeks and had mild symptoms. While she tried to remain calm and positive throughout the experience, she admits she was left with questions about what this meant for her and her baby.
“I think my main concern, like is she going to be okay. Is my baby going to be okay,” she said.
Dr. Stacey L. Schultz-Cherry, PhD. and Infectious Diseases expert with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, says unlike blood-borne viruses like Zika, COVID-19 is unable to pass through the placental wall.
MORE: Watch an in-depth interview with Dr. Stacey L. Schultz-Cherry about viruses and fetuses.
“Currently there is no evidence that that virus can go from the mom, through the placenta, and into the baby,” Dr. Schultz-Cherry said. “We know the placenta is made up of very specialized cells and one thing those cells seek to do is make a lot of very important responses that basically block viruses.”
She says in fact, mothers who had COVID-19 two to four weeks before giving birth, will likely transfer their antibodies to their fetus. The same goes for mothers who get the vaccine during pregnancy or while breastfeeding
“When I got [the COVID-19 vaccine], they were still saying they weren’t really sure how it’d affect breastfeeding and the baby,” Marquez said. “But after talking to my doctor we just decided it was probably the best decision and maybe she would even get some of the antibodies.”
While there is still a lot to learn about how this virus impacts pregnancy and infants.. one thing all health experts can agree on is that as long as a COVID-positive mother follows the precautions like washing hands and wearing a mask, the likelihood of passing COVID-19 onto their infant is extremely low. In fact, Dr. Upadhyaya says out of all the deliveries she’s done for COVID-positive mothers, so far none of the infants tested positive.
Studies on pregnancy and COVID-19: