A woman who has tested positive for the coronavirus (Covid-19) disease can continue to breastfeed her baby, but should maintain a physical distance of 6 feet at all other times, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has said.
Also, there is no evidence yet to suggest that a foetus may contract the virus from the mother, but pregnant women need to take all possible precautions to stay away from being infected, the ministry quoted a senior doctor from an interview.
The ministry spoke to Dr Manju Puri, who heads the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Lady Hardinge Medical College in New Delhi, over several related concerns, including vaccine hesitancy and what precautions an infected woman needs to take to protect her newborn. Dr Puri said vaccines that are being administered against coronavirus do not have any adverse effect on reproductive organs or fertility.
Stressing the importance of inoculation, Dr Puri said the doses will help prevent severe diseases in pregnant women. “Also, vaccinating a mother is likely to give some degree of protection to the newborn as the antibodies developed in the mother’s body post-vaccination will pass on to the developing foetus through her blood. In the case of lactating mothers, an infant gets these antibodies through the mother’s breast milk,” Dr Puri said.
Regarding fears of any impact of the doses on fertility, Puri said it was all a rumour that gets circulated on social media, adding misinformation is far more dangerous than the virus itself.
She said while the anti-virus vaccines are relatively new, these have been developed using time-tested techniques. “Vaccines help the body develop immunity against a specific pathogen, it does not affect any other body tissue. In fact, we give some vaccines such as hepatitis B, Influenza, pertussis vaccine to women even during pregnancy to protect them and their unborn child from various diseases,” she said.
Besides, regulators have approved the administration of the vaccines during pregnancy only after they were confident of their safety, she said. “There is no scientific data or studies that show that vaccines can cause infertility. These vaccines do not affect the reproductive organs in any way,” she said.
Speaking more on caring for newborns, Dr Puri said an infected mother should continue to breastfeed the baby, but keep a distance of six feet otherwise. Help from a caregiver who has tested negative from the virus may also be sought during the period. Dr Puri said an infected mother should wash her hands, wear protective gear such as a mask and face shield before breastfeeding the newborn. Frequent sanitisation of the surroundings is also helpful.
“If there is no one else to take care of the child, a mother should wear a mask all the time, and maintain physical distance from the child as much as possible. The mother and the child should stay in a well-ventilated room. And she should regularly wash her hands and sanitise the surroundings,” Dr Puri said.
The senior doctor said that while pregnancy and childbirth are social events in Indian society, expectant mothers should take adequate precautions, including wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing even at home. This is because she may not be going out, but may contract the disease from her family members who could be going out for work.
She said if a pregnant woman develops any symptom of Covid-19, she should get herself tested at the earliest, “as the sooner we diagnose, the better we can manage the disease”.
The management of COVID-19 is almost the same during the pregnancy as it is for others, but it should be done only under the strict supervision of a doctor, she said.
“A woman should isolate herself, drink plenty of fluids, check her temperature and oxygen saturation every four-six hrs. If the temperature does not come down even after taking paracetamol, she needs to get in touch with a doctor. If there is a fall in oxygen concentration or if there is a decreasing trend for example if it is 98 in the morning 97 in the evening, and then drops further the next day, she needs to speak to her doctor,” Dr Puri said.
Besides, women who have associated illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, etc, need to be more careful, as they may need hospitalisation.
Hence, consulting and staying in touch with a doctor are very important during the entire period. “We strongly recommend an overall health check-up post-COVID recovery to ensure that the mother and the foetus are doing fine,” she said.
The doctor further said there is an increase in mental health problems among women during pregnancy and post-childbirth and these are times when a woman undergoes a lot of hormonal and physiological changes.
Dr Puri said pregnant women have poor coping skills and need social support. Isolation for 15 days is difficult for everyone, but more so for pregnant women and postnatal mothers. During this time, the additional anxiety about her child’s health can severely affect her mental status. So, it is important to provide constant support and assurance to women during this time. Family members should observe her and if there is any drastic change in her mood, may seek medical help.
She also spoke on counselling expectant women about various contraceptive methods during pregnancy and offering them postpartum intra-uterine device that can be inserted immediately after childbirth or caesarean delivery.
“It saves them from an unnecessary visit to the hospital after childbirth and reduces the risk of an unplanned pregnancy,” Puri said.
(With agency inputs)