What is the risk to pregnant women for getting coronavirus? It's a question many of moms-to-be find themselves asking at such an uncertain time.
I am one of them.
In September, my husband and I will welcome our first child into the world, a girl. We are so overjoyed to become new parents and our families and friends are also beaming with joy for us.
However, when the coronavirus began to encroach into Montana, fear set in.
As many women know, that first pregnancy is an incredible learning experience. Your body is doing things you’ve never recognized, and it's an empowering and terrifying experience all at once.
At least, for me it is.
The truth is— I’m young, 36, and healthy and usually never get bogged down with sickness. But in my first trimester, I got a cold and I learned pretty early on that my immune system was not working for me. Instead, it's working to keep the fetus growing inside my belly healthy and viable.
Fast-forward to now, a virtually unknown virus is circling the globe, sickening and killing people, of course my uneasiness grew.
The thing is — the risk for pregnant women when it comes to the coronavirus is uncertain, and doctors and health experts all over the world are working feverishly to navigate what they know so far about it.
And now Billings-area hospitals are putting visitor restriction in place.
The Billings Clinic is restricting visitors and only allowing one support person in the labor room room. That was a policy it implemented weeks ago.
St. Vincent has a similar policy in place.
I personally was even taken back during a recent monthly prenatal appointment. My doctor didn’t want me walking into the lobby of the clinic and possibly being exposed and getting sick.
At first, the appointment was going to be canceled. Then I was brought through a back door to the clinic to limit my exposure to those potentially sick by the virus (which I was happy to do).
At this point — positive cases of coronavirus had already made their way to Billings.
So, the constant worry and uncertainly prompted me to do a news story, hoping to get some perspective and share with other soon-to-be moms what I learned.
The Billings Clinic set me up with OBGYN physician Amy Hopstad.
“Unfortunately, right now we don’t know a lot about COVID-19 and pregnancy,” said Hopstad.
Hopstad told me there’s just not enough data coming out of China about the disease to know how it could impact women who are pregnant.
“What we do know,” she said. “Is with other respiratory infections things like influenzas and the prior SARS outbreaks, pregnant women are more vulnerable and tend to get sicker.”
She says, because pregnant women experience a decrease in their immune system, naturally it makes them vulnerable to attract a sickness floating around in the air.
“Your immune system kind of gets put on the back burner for a little bit. That, and there are some other things that happen, physiological changes that happen in the lungs and things like that. Respiratory illness is especially more serious in pregnant people.“
Of course that’s one of the many reasons Billings Clinic and others have prompted changes at their facilities.
Hopstad explained that the mission means protecting those who are pregnant, as well as their families.
“Now we have more visiting restrictions than we ever used to have, in that kiddos under 18 aren’t allowed,” said Hopstad. “You get one support person and that person for now is allowed in the labor room and postpartum and can stay here with you.”
That being said, Hopstad doesn’t anticipate Montana doing what other states, such as New York have done, where no support person is allowed in the labor room while the baby is being born.
Safety for now is the best policy, according to those with Billings Clinic, until health professionals know more.
And as a new mom, I am OK with that.
Hopstad told me how difficult it is to not be able to give her patients exact answers about coronavirus, but that being said— she and others— including my doctor are the first line of defense in our safety.
“Honestly, all of us are a little bit uneasy because we are hearing the case reports from other cities that are harder hit,” she said. “It's hard for everyone so just to be careful."
Even if it means sneaking you through the back door of the clinic to keep you safe.