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Birth and pregnancy in a COVID-19 world - it’s all about risk

22 April 2020 Profmed Medical Scheme
Craig Comrie, CEO of Profmed

Craig Comrie, CEO of Profmed

The emergence of COVID-19 on the world stage has drastically changed the way we look at our lives and the risks we are prepared to live with. This is even more heightened for women expecting to give birth during these precarious and unprecedented times.

Justine Lacy, Clinical advisor of Profmed Medical Scheme says it is important to keep things in perspective. Although COVID-19 is a serious issue, pregnant women are not necessarily more at risk simply because they are pregnant.

“The research indicates that pregnant women are not at any higher risk. That said, it is important to keep in mind, if you are pregnant, and have an underlying disease like asthma or hypertension or even diabetes, that automatically defines you as a high risk individual,” says Lacy.

Although, when an expectant mother is pregnant, she has more than herself to keep safe. Lacy advices pregnant women to limit the amount of contact they have with other people more so than the average person.

“This includes distancing oneself from people who appear to be healthy because they could be an asymptomatic carrier,” warns Lacy.

Even when the lockdown is lifted, Lacy advises pregnant women to continue maintaining social distancing because the threat will still be apparent.

Reducing risk during pregnancy, particularly during in a post-COVID-19 world is all about empowerment. Lacy says women need to educate themselves if they want to avoid risk. “We live in a time where we have all the information at our fingertips. Although I would encourage women to have resources they can turn to like a healthcare professional or midwife when they have questions and concerns. These are the people that will give you the right information specific to your unique history and situation.”

In a country which has an extremely high number of C-Sections performed, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic should make women think twice about a hospital birth, especially one that puts them in a hospital for a longer recovery time.

Profmed has actually enhanced its midwife benefits in 2020 to encourage its members to consider choosing a midwife to be part of their birthing experience.

“We have an increase in queries surrounding this and know that many women fear giving birth in a hospital, but we also know that many women do not have a choice so this needs to be a shared decision between them and their healthcare professional,” says Lacy. “Having said that there is little evidence right now to suggest that one birthing method is better than the other in these times of COVID-19.”

What about the expectant mothers who have contracted COVID-19. Lacy suggests that mothers who have contracted the virus and go into labour should phone ahead and inform the healthcare facility that they are on their way. “They need to be prepared and aware that you may be infected so they can take the necessary precautions to protect themselves, you and your baby.”

When it comes to breastfeeding, Lacy says there is insufficient evidence to determine if the virus is transferred via breastmilk so mothers need to be fully informed about the risks as they proceed. “It is important that breastfeeding mothers take the necessary precautions to avoid possible transference,” she says.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a Q&A on COVID-19, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. With regards to breastfeeding, the WHO says Women with COVID-19 can breastfeed if they wish to do so but should practice respiratory hygiene during feeding, wearing a mask where available; wash hands before and after touching the baby; and routinely clean and disinfect surfaces they have touched.

Lacy advices pregnant women to understand that COVID-19 is still in its infancy in terms of our scientific understanding of how the virus works. “The risk is always evolving and changing. We shouldn’t trust all the information we have right now as that might change.”

From a medical scheme standpoint, she says that we are yet to see the trends in terms of members and their choices during this time. “All we can do is hope our members are making the choices that are comfortable and safest for them. We are here to help them reach that conclusion in the most objective way possible.”

For more information, read the WHO Q&A on COVID-19, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding here.

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