How Does COVID-19 Affect Pregnant Women?

Updated Jan. 8, 2021

Since reports of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) came out of China in late 2019, the virus has spread worldwide. COVID-19, the disease that SARS-CoV-2 causes, has caused tens of millions of illnesses and more than a million deaths. The World Health Organization classified it as a global pandemic.

Groups at higher risk currently include older adults and people with other health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease.

Pregnant women also are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Because of that, it is important to take preventive actions if you are pregnant.

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Are Pregnant Women at Risk for COVID-19?

There are no studies currently that indicate pregnant women are at greater risk for getting infected.

However, according to the CDC, pregnant women who have COVID-19 are at greater risk of severe illness than non-pregnant women. That includes a higher risk of needing intensive care, a ventilator, or a heart-lung bypass machine, according to a CDC report.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea

COVID-19 also can lead to more severe illnesses, like pneumonia.

Like many respiratory infections, some pregnant women have an increased risk of preterm birth from COVID-19.

Can Pregnant Women Pass COVID-19 to Their Babies?

COVID-19 spreads between people in close contact through respiratory droplets. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, they release droplets that can land in an uninfected person’s nose, mouth, or eyes. It also may spread if an uninfected person touches an infected surface and then touches his or her nose, mouth, or eyes.


Some newborns have tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after birth. According to the CDC, it is unknown if those babies became infected before, during, or after birth. The overall risk of transmission from mother to child is low, the CDC says.

There also is no conclusive evidence that the virus can pass through amniotic fluid or breast milk.

How Can Pregnant Women Prevent Infection?

Two vaccines have been approved to prevent COVID-19, via an emergency use authorization from the FDA.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says pregnant and lactating women who fall into groups of people recommended for vaccine distribution should be able to get COVID-19 vaccines if they choose to. They may want to discuss the vaccine with their health care provider first, the ACOG says.

Pregnant women should follow other COVID-19 preventive measures outlined by the CDC. Those include:

  • Avoid contact with people who have COVID-19 or who might have been exposed to it. This includes members of your own household.
  • Wear a facemask in public and when around people who aren’t from your household.
    • Avoid people who are not wearing a mask, or ask them to wear a mask when near you.
  • Maintain social distancing: Keep at least 6 feet of distance from people who are not members of your household.
  • Regular handwashing: Use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Do it especially before eating, after going to the bathroom, after touching common surfaces, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. If soap and water are unavailable, use hand sanitizer. The hand sanitizer should contain at least 60 percent alcohol, per CDC recommendations.

It also is important for pregnant women to follow along with their normal pregnancy plans. They should stay well-hydrated, keep their prenatal appointments, monitor their temperature, take any prescribed vitamins, and get necessary vaccinations like the flu and whooping cough vaccines.

For more information on what steps you can take to best ensure a healthy pregnancy, call UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital at 1-866-696-2433 (1-866-MyMagee).

Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Caring for Newborns. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Update: Characteristics of Symptomatic Women of Reproductive Age with Laboratory-Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 Infection by Pregnancy Status — United States, January 22–October 3, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of Coronavirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccinating Pregnant and Lactating Patients Against COVID-19. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

About Infectious Diseases

If you have a disease caused by bacteria, fungi, parasite, or virus, the UPMC Center for Care of Infectious Diseases can help. We have specialty units for prevention and treatment of HIV-AIDs, postsurgical and transplant infections, and illnesses caused by international travel. Our faculty research infectious diseases and participate in clinical trials to learn more and develop better treatment and prevention methods.