Pregnancy, birth and feeding baby during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
Wednesday 8 July 2020
This article was written during the Queensland response to the COVID-19 pandemic and reflects the information available at the date of publication. Please check the Australian Department of Health COVID-19 webpage for updated information and current health advice regarding COVID-19 and vaccinations in Queensland.
If you’re pregnant or have recently had a baby, you might have some questions about how the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak could affect you and your baby.
Will your birth plan need to change? What health risks does COVID-19 pose to you and your family? Should you still be going to the hospital for your antenatal appointments and birth?
We’ve answered these and other common questions and concerns below.
Are you pregnant or have recently given birth and want to share your story with other mums? We’re collecting and sharing stories of birth during COVID-19 on our Instagram page.
Should I still attend my appointments with my GP, midwife or obstetrician?
It’s really important that you still attend all your antenatal appointments leading up to the birth of your baby. These appointments could be with your GP, midwife or obstetrician, as well as special appointments for any necessary scans or tests. At these appointments, your health practitioner checks in on your health and your baby’s health and makes sure everything is still going well, so it’s very important that you go.
Some appointments for pregnant women will be provided by telehealth (appointments over the phone or by video call). Call your healthcare provider to discuss how they would like to set up your appointments going forward.
If you do need to have face-to-face appointments, remember that hospitals and medical centres are well prepared to see pregnant women and their babies during outbreaks of infectious diseases. Birthing centres, hospitals and medical clinics are taking special precautions during the COVID-19 outbreak to protect your safety when you come in for appointments.
How can I protect myself from getting COVID-19 while pregnant?
Pregnant women should follow the same advice as the general public to prevent themselves from coming into contact with the virus.
- Wash your hands often and properly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. Wash your hands when you leave and return to your home, before you prepare food, before you eat and after you use the toilet.
- If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser to clean your hands.
- Try not to touch your face.
- Stay at least 1.5 metres away from anyone who is unwell.
Some employers have special programs in place for pregnant women to make it safer for them to come to work. If you are concerned that you are at risk of coming into contact with the virus at work, speak with your employer.
You might be able to change some of your routines so that you don’t need to leave the house as often during this time. If you have a partner or another adult at home, have them get the groceries and do other essential shopping. If you need to leave the house for work, consider whether you are able to drive or be driven, rather than take public transport, or if you can arrive at work and leave during non-peak travel times.
What could happen if I get COVID-19 while pregnant?
If you become unwell at any time during your pregnancy, it’s important that you let your doctor, midwife or healthcare provider know.
Most women who are pregnant and get COVID-19 will experience mild illness, like a cold or the flu, and will recover fully. Pregnant women who have heart or lung conditions might become more unwell. Illnesses like COVID-19 can cause a high fever (temperature). If you ever have a high fever during your pregnancy, you need to call your doctor, midwife or healthcare provider as soon as possible.
If you do get COVID-19 during your pregnancy, the good news is that at this stage, we don’t think it’s common for pregnant women to pass the virus on to their baby.
Can I still access antenatal classes and sessions during the COVID-19 outbreak?
If you’ve booked in to antenatal classes like birth classes, baby classes, yoga or hospital tours, your classes might be rescheduled or held by video. Speak to the teacher, hospital or birth centre about what changes there might be, and if the class is cancelled, how you can access this information in a different way.
Online antenatal education provided by Queensland Health is now available. Topics include:
- what to expect during pregnancy
- what happens during birth and the options for managing labour and birth
- how to look after your new baby.
How will the COVID-19 outbreak affect my birth plans?
Queensland public hospitals are still offering high-quality maternity services to pregnant women. Hospitals and birth centres have made some changes surrounding birth to protect you, your baby and the hospital staff. These might include:
- The possibility of having water immersion or a water birth if you have COVID-19 – water births may pose a risk to your baby and if there is an emergency the personal protective equipment (masks, gloves and gowns) worn by hospital staff may be less effective.
- The number of people who can be with you during the birth – you may only be able to have one person with you (your partner or a different support person) during your labour and birth.
- Gas for pain relief if you have COVID-19 – gas may not be offered.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and restrictions change, it's a good idea to talk to your midwife, obstetrician or GP about how restrictions might affect your birth plans throughout your pregnancy. You should speak with with them about any questions or concerns you have throughout and if anything changes. Staff will always put the health and safety of you and your baby first. They want you to feel as calm and confident as possible when it comes time for your labour and birth, and that includes having your questions answered.
It’s important to remember that, while staff will do everything they can to help you have the birth you want, birth can be a very fluid process. There’s no guarantee you would be able to have, or even want to have, everything you are planning when it comes time to give birth. Even when there isn’t a virus outbreak, birth plans sometimes need to change depending on the mum and baby’s health and preferences on the day. Being flexible in your birth expectations might help you have a calmer, more relaxed time.
Is it still safe to give birth at the hospital or birth centre?
If you have been planning to have your baby at hospital or a birth centre, that is the safest place for you and your baby to be. Queensland Health facilities provide high-quality maternity and newborn services, and this current outbreak hasn’t changed that at all. We are taking extra precautions to make sure you and your baby, as well as staff, stay safe.
Should I have a home birth instead?
If you have been planning to have your baby at a hospital or birth centre, then it is safest for you to continue with the plans you have made. The doctors and midwives you have been working with throughout your pregnancy know your health and pregnancy history, and it is not recommended that you change care providers close to the time of your birth.
I need to travel within the state to give birth, can I still do that?
If you live in a regional or remote area and need to travel to a hospital for your birth, you should follow the plans you already had to do this. If there are any changes to this your local health service will contact you.
What will happen if I have COVID-19 and give birth?
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and it’s time for you to have your baby, your medical team will take special precautions to protect everyone, including your baby, from contracting the virus. This might include wearing special equipment and asking you to wear special equipment, like a face mask. They might also monitor your baby more often during your labour.
If you and your baby are well enough after birth, you may be able to go home after a few hours. It’s important to think about who can help and support you and your baby when you go home.
Could my baby catch COVID-19?
If you have COVID-19, there is a chance that your baby might catch it from you after birth. Your medical team will show you some steps to lower the risk of your baby catching the virus, like washing your hands before you touch your baby, and wearing a mask.
First days with baby
How will the COVID-19 outbreak affect my time in hospital after having my baby?
The level of care you receive after having your baby will be the same as it would have been at any other time. Staff will be able to provide you with information and help for feeding your baby, bathing, changing nappies and other newborn needs.
If mum and baby are well and the hospital staff feel it is safe, some mothers may choose to leave the hospital soon after giving birth. Other mothers may need to stay longer.
Your midwife, child health nurse or doctor will provide you with information and ongoing care once you are at home.
Can I have more than one visitor come to see me and my baby?
The hospital you are at may have changed their guidelines about who can come and visit you and your baby ,and when they are allowed to come. Check with them about what is allowed. It might be that only one person can visit you, possibly the person who was with you during the birth.
Visitors may be asked not to bring gifts or flowers to the hospital. Ask people to send these to your home for you to enjoy once you and baby have returned.
Can my other children visit me and the baby?
Your other children will not be able to visit you and the baby in hospital. It’s a good idea to organise for someone to look after them while you are at the hospital for the birth and for the days following, and to plan for a special reunion and time to meet the baby at home.
What restrictions should I follow once I bring my baby home?
Once you’re home with your baby, you should follow the same guidelines as we’re recommending for everyone at this time. Practise good hygiene and social distancing when you're out or if you and baby have visitors.
You might have pictured having lots of friends and family coming to see you and meet your baby when you first go home, and feel disappointed that not everyone can meet your newborn baby straight away. Remember that the most important thing right now is that you are doing your best to take care of your baby and keep them safe. While you are waiting to have visitors, make use of technology to call, video call and send photos of your baby to loved ones.
What happens if I need help once I’ve gone home?
You and your baby will still have regular appointments with either your midwife, child health nurse or GP, and it’s important you still have these appointments. They may be done in person, or if possible, it might be arranged for you to do these over the phone or by video call. Your midwife or someone from the hospital will come to your home to visit you after your baby has been born. They are likely to also make contact with you by phone.
If at any time you have questions or concerns about your baby, you should contact your doctor or midwife. If you think it’s an emergency or your child is very unwell, you should call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance or go straight to your closest Emergency Department.
You can also find a list of helpful hotlines to call for questions about your baby’s health or your health on the Queensland Government website.
Breastfeeding and formula feeding
Should I still breastfeed my baby?
Breastmilk is an ideal first food for your newborn baby and breastfeeding is safe to do during the COVID-19 outbreak. There is currently no evidence that the virus carries through breastmilk, and breastmilk can even contain properties that help protect your baby from germs.
Even when you are well, you should wash your hands before touching or feeding your baby, and use a tissue or your elbow to cover your sneezes and coughs.
Is it safe to breastfeed my baby if I have COVID-19?
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, it is still possible to breastfeed your baby, or to express milk for bottle feeding. Breastmilk contains special properties to protect your baby from germs, so it’s a great food for them if they are near someone who is unwell. Talk to your health care team about their recommendations for feeding your baby safely.
What precautions should I take if I am feeding my baby formula or expressed milk? What if I have COVID-19?
If you are feeding your baby expressed breastmilk or formula, it is important that you follow regular hygiene guidelines like you would at any time, including washing your hands and properly sterilising bottles and equipment. If you have COVID-19, you may choose to have someone else bottle feed your baby until, you have recovered.
Mental wellbeing during pregnancy
I am feeling worried, who can I talk to?
During pregnancy, most women experience a range of emotions. It’s normal to feel some worry during pregnancy and when having a baby. However, if you feel worrying thoughts are becoming a regular part of life, it can help to talk about any concerns with your doctor, partner or a close friend.
On top of this, big events like COVID-19 may affect the mental wellbeing of you and your family. It might change the way you live and place added stress on relationships.
Depression and anxiety can occur at any time in life, however can often appear during major events like pregnancy, having a baby, or with added stressors like COVID-19. Seeking support early can make a big difference to your mental health and wellbeing.
Read more on perinatal anxiety or contact a health professional at:
- Pregnancy, Birth and Baby Helpline: 1800 882 436
- Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
- Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA): 1300 726 306