Pregnancy right in the middle of a global pandemic that’s still unfolding is the perfect recipe for feelings of anxiety. And this is true for both the pregnant women that want to keep their babies and the women who want to terminate their pregnancies.
Is it safe to go to the hospital? Is there something more I should be doing to protect my baby? Can I transfer the virus to my unborn baby? Can I still get a late pregnancy termination? These are just some of the questions that a lot of women have been asking themselves, and we’re here to offer some clarity on some of the most important things.
Is Being Pregnant Riskier?
With a virus like the flu, pregnant women tend to be at a higher risk of contracting it. But, in an interview on 702, Netcare obstetrician Dr Bronwyn Moore said that this might not be the case with COVID-19 as yet.
“At the moment, it’s not looking like pregnant women are any more susceptible than anyone else from contracting the virus,” Dr Moore said.
“What we are saying to our moms is that they just need to follow all the prevention guidelines and to stay home as much they can. This is especially important for moms that are in the third trimester of their pregnancy and are close to delivery.”
A major study published in the journal Lancet looked at the medical records of women who gave birth after they had tested positive for the virus in Wuhan, China. None of the babies that were born tested positive for the virus leading the researchers to conclude that it would seem that mother-to-baby transmission is highly unlikely, but cautioned that more studies would need to be done.
In April, however, a Durban woman tested positive for COVID-19 on admission to the Ahmed Al Kadi private hospital. She gave birth via C-section and her baby also tested positive for the virus. The hospital released a statement about this and noted that both the mother and child have been at home recovering.
Essentially, the details around mother-to-child transmission are still quite vague and unclear, but one can take comfort in the fact that you will most likely be tested before you give birth — so all appropriate measures and precautions will be taken to make sure that you and your baby stay well.
What if I have COVID-19?
Because pregnant women essentially carry the same risk as anyone for COVID-19, a lot of the procedures and advice around the virus remain the same for pregnant women.
According to MediClinic, tests for pregnant women are the same as for any other person. At the moment, the testing involves swabs that are taken from your mouth and nose.
The advice also remains the same if you receive a positive result.
“If your symptoms are mild, you will be advised to stay at home to recover, and if your symptoms are severe, you may have to be treated in hospital,” MediClinic said in a statement.
“To avoid the risk of infecting others, it is not advisable to visit your doctor or health facility unless it is clinically necessary: you should rather call your doctor or health facility unless it is clinically necessary. If you are advised to go to a hospital, then you should inform the hospital prior to admission that you have tested positive for the virus or suspect that you may be infected with the virus. Please do not delay in seeking medical attention if you are concerned about your baby.”
Will it affect how I give birth?
They add that testing positive for COVID-19 should not affect how you give birth — and you’ll probably stick to your birth plan as far as possible. However, a C-section could be on the cards if you develop any respiratory complications because of the virus.
“Currently, there is no evidence against using methods such as epidurals or spinal blocks to relieve pain.”
If you go into labour while you are in self-isolation, then you will have to get in touch with your hospital, let them know that you suspect you might have COVID-19 and that you’re in labour, they will let you know how to go forward.
If you’ve completed some sort of online assessment or suspect that you have COVID-19, never arrive at a medical facility unannounced. Call your doctor or the hospital and they will give you a way forward.
What happens when I’m close to delivery?
Most hospitals have very specific protocol in place to make sure that you and your baby are safe and protected during your labour and delivery period. While each hospital has its own set of regulations (you should call your hospital to find out what their specific protocol is), let’s take a look at how Netcare is doing it just to give you a bit of an idea of what to expect.
- If you have booked a private room at the hospital, a birth partner (such as the father) will be able to attend the delivery and stay with the mother for the duration of her time in the hospital. In this instance, the birth partner won’t be able to leave and come back once they are in the private room.
- If you’re having your delivery in a private room but are booked into a ward, a birth partner will be allowed to be there for the delivery and remain with the mother until she is moved to back to her ward.
- Only one parent at a time will be allowed to visit the newborn baby in the nursery or neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
- Grandparents and other family members are not permitted to visit while the mother is still in hospital.
Marie Stopes has just launched an incredible telemedicine consultation service for women that aren’t able to come to the centre or access safe abortion. Through this service, they are offering a self-managed pregnancy termination option procedure (this is not recommended for women that have pre-existing medical conditions).
This option is available for women that are 4-9 weeks into their pregnancy. A trained professional will provide all the necessary information regarding the process — what to expect, the delivery/collection process (for the necessary medication) and aftercare.
Speaking to Women’s Health, Whitney Chinogwenya, the marketing and brand manager for Marie Stopes South Africa, says that the service was borne by the need to respond to restrictions the country is currently under because of COVID-19.
“This service allows our healthcare professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients under strict protocols to ensure safety for patients,” Chinogwenya explains.
“We are seeing a growing demand for the service people become more aware of this offering. It’s allowed us to help women in areas where they might not have access to a physical abortion facility.”
If, however, you are between 9 – 12 weeks pregnant you will need to have your abortion done surgically; you can do this at multiple hospitals and local clinics including Marie Stopes.
“The procedure can also be performed when you’re in your second trimester (up to 20 weeks), however it must be added that the surgery is more complicated if undergone at this point,” Chinongwenya says.
“Based on the stage of your pregnancy, our nurses and doctors will recommend what safe abortion procedure is right for you.”
She also reminds that in South Africa, the law that governs abortion restricts procedures after 20 weeks except in some cases where there is a threat to the woman’s life.
“Terminating your pregnancy is your legal right. We encourage women to avoid using the ‘backstreet’ methods and unlicensed doctors as these unsanctioned procedures may lead to severe complications, infections causing prolonged absence from work, permanent infertility and, in the most heart-breaking cases, even death,” Chinongwenya says.
“Please know that you never have to feel embarrassed about considering to have an abortion, we are here for you.”
MomConnect is a telemedicine service launched by the Department of Health to offer maternal health support via cellphone-based technologies. The service is completely free and provides information to pregnant women, mothers and healthcare workers.
All you have to is dial *134*550#, follow the prompts, answer a few questions about your pregnancy and you will be registered. From then on, you will receive regular SMS updates on relevant information, tips and advice as it pertains to your pregnancy — these will continue to come in until your child is one year’s old.