Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses known to infect both animals and humans. The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Current evidence suggests the COVID-19 virus is primarily transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets and contact routes1.
Commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, fatigue and a dry cough. The majority of those infected with the virus will develop mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without any special treatment. More vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions have a higher risk of developing complications2.
COVID-19 and pregnancy
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), together with a number of UK health bodies* have published information for healthcare professionals on coronavirus infection in pregnancy3. As the situation is constantly evolving, please keep up to date with the latest guidance on the RCOG website.
What effect does coronavirus have on pregnant women?
So far there is no evidence to suggest that pregnant women are more susceptible to infection than the general population. Whilst most women are expected to experience only mild to moderate symptoms, changes to the body’s immune system during pregnancy may occasionally result in more severe symptoms3.
As a precaution, on 16th March the Chief Medical Officer announced pregnant women fall within a vulnerable group in the UK population and as such are advised to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures4.
What effect does coronavirus have on the foetus?
There is currently no evidence to suggest the virus is teratogenic. In regard to transmission, a small number of babies have been diagnosed with coronavirus shortly after birth, but it is not confirmed whether transmission occurred before or after birth3.
There is still a lot to learn. In order to establish a wider evidence base, the UK is conducting a surveillance study of pregnant women with COVID-19 and their newborn babies5. This evidence will be closely monitored, and official advice updated accordingly3. For more information on this study visit the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit’s website.
Coronavirus and breastfeeding
Breastfeeding provides a multitude of benefits for the baby, including reduced risk of infection and respiratory illness6,7. Based on current evidence, these benefits outweigh any potential risk of viral transmission through breastmilk, and as such breastfeeding should be continued3. However, precautions should be taken to prevent transmission from close contact of mother and baby. It’s important to advise all mothers/carers to3:
- Wash hands before touching the baby to feed them, or touching bottles/breast pump to express milk.
- Avoid coughing during feeding and, if available, wear a mask during feeding.
- Consider expressing milk and allowing a healthy individual to feed their baby if they are unwell, ensuring all expressing equipment is correctly sterilised when used.
Coronavirus and bottle feeding
For parents who formula feed, strict adherence to sterilisation guidelines is recommended for formula feed preparation. Again, it is very important to encourage precaution to prevent transmission from close contact of carer and baby3 – see above breastfeeding guidance.
Some parents may be concerned over formula milk availability. In light of this, there have been claims that parents of infants should consider early introduction of complementary foods. This is not official advice, and infants should only begin weaning when developmentally ready8. If reassurance is required for your patients on Danone product availability and supply during the coronavirus period, then please direct them to the information and guidance on our consumer websites, Aptaclub and C&G babyclub.
For further information on COVID-19 in pregnancy, breastfeeding and bottle feeding please visit RCOG website.
For further information on nutrition & dietary issues relating to COVID-19 please visit BDA website.
*RCOG, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland.