It’s normal for any expecting mom to be scared that she’ll pick up an infectious disease that could harm her and her baby. And the threat of getting infected with COVID-19, is no exception. But the good news is while changes in your immune system during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to certain diseases, including the Zirka virus, SARS and even influenza, this might not be the case with COVID-19. In fact, early data is showing it could be somewhat protective against the disease.
April Rees, a biochemist who is doing her PhD on the changes in the immune system in pregnancy, and Catherine Thornton, professor of Human Immunology and Deputy Head of Swansea University Medical School, have published a report about their early observations, based on data currently available of pregnant women with COVID-19. But they reiterate that these are just their observations so far, and much larger studies need to be done to find out exactly how this happens.
The expecting mom
According to their data on pregnant women with COVID-19, the disease is linked to premature birth and changes to the placenta which might reflect altered blood flow. This suggests that disruptions caused by the virus do occur between the mom and her unborn child.
But, bear in mind, these studies were of women with severe COVID-19 infection. They stress that very little is known about the effect of mild disease or asymptomatic infection in pregnancy. In other words, just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean that you are more “vulnerable” to getting the disease.
The apparent “protective effect of pregnancy” in severe disease, they suggest, might just be a reflection of different immune responses to the severe COVID-19 seen in men and women, and that more men than women die from the disease in general.
However, they point out that they haven’t seen the same immune response in pregnancy with other viruses, such as influenza. This they say could mean there’s something else at play with COVID-19.
The unborn baby
They also observe that, so far, from the data they’ve collected, your unborn baby seems to be very well protected in the womb. This means it’s very unlikely for you to transmit COVID-19 to your unborn baby if you get infected. (It’s possible, but very uncommon.)
This, they theorise, is because your placenta either produces molecules that stop the virus from attaching itself to its cells OR that the membranes in your placenta limits infection of the virus. Further studies still need to be done to find out exactly how the placenta might protect the foetus from infection and what effects the virus has on the placenta.
The say any antibodies your body produces to fight off the virus if you get it will automatically pass to your unborn baby. These protective antibodies will also be provided in your breast milk if you breastfeed your baby.
Early studies from China have shown that antibodies that protect against COVID-19 are found in newborns of women who had these antibodies. This, the authors say, confirms that passive immunity, where a baby essentially inherits antibodies from a parent, occurs with COVID-19.
Larger studies now need to be done to investigate exactly how this happens and whether COVID-19 antibodies are present in human milk to better understand the role of these antibodies in neutralising the virus and protecting your baby.
Content editor and writer on Living & Loving, Sonya has over 25 years experience in the media industry. She edited Living & Loving magazine for six-and-a-half years and is the former editor of Longevity magazine. She’s won numerous media industry awards and is passionate about the health and wellbeing of moms and children.
Outside of work, she enjoys trying out recipes, reading crime mysteries and thrillers, practicing yoga, and exploring new destinations.
Learn more about Sonya Naudé.