Coronavirus crisis adds new layer of stress for expecting mothers

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Pregnancy has always been a fraught time for women, said Jean Tornatore, medical director of labor and delivery at Bridgeport Hospital. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become even more so.

“There’s a lot of anticipation that goes into this event,” Tornatore said. “Having (this crisis) injected into their plans for (childbirth) is extremely anxiety-provoking.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s unknown whether pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public, or if they are more likely to get a serious illness if infected. However, the CDC also reported that pregnant women are at greater risk for getting infections in general, and that they have a higher risk of severe illness when infected with other coronaviruses, the virus family of which COVID-19 is a member.

Because the pandemic is ever-changing, Tornatore and other experts said there isn’t a lot of information for obstetrician-gynecologists to reference.

“The understanding of this virus and pregnancy is evolving as we speak,” said Dr. Patrice Gillotti, vice chair of Danbury Hospital’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “What we know to date: it has not been shown to be passed on vertically from mother to fetus. The virus has not been recovered in breastmilk or amniotic fluid.”

Gillotti said the largest group in the United States that has been reported on is a group of 43 obstetrics patients in New York. “In this group, the severity of the disease appeared to be similar to non-pregnant patients with the vast majority having mild disease and only 5 percent critical. The numbers are small, but that’s all we have to date,” Gillotti said.

Though much of the information has been positive, this is still a hard time to be an expectant mother, said Dr. Christian Pettker, chief of obstetrics at Yale New Haven Hospital. “A lot of women are worried about getting a disease and having complications in their pregnancies,” he said. “And a lot are worried about coming to the hospital at all, because they think they might get infected.”

To help alleviate this anxiety, Pettker said, the hospital has stepped up the use of telehealth services for appointments that don’t require women to actually be in the hospital. Also, patients, doctors and any labor partner all must wear masks.

Over the past week, hospitals in the Yale New Haven Health system — which includes Bridgeport Hospital, Greenwich Hospital and Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London in addition to Yale New Haven Hospital — have moved toward testing all asymptomatic women for COVID-19 at labor.

If women have symptoms, they can get tested earlier, but Tornatore said there was reluctance to test asymptomatic women too early, because if they received a negative result, it might give them false confidence, which could lead to them getting infected after all.

Mostly, Tornatore said, doctors are just trying to take care of women at a time when they’ve always been vulnerable, but are even more so now.

“We are in an unfortunate situation where we’re kind of within something where there isn’t a lot of information to look back on,” Tornatore said.