- COVID-positive new moms don’t necessarily need to be separated from their babies after birth in order to prevent transmission, the most detailed study on the topic to date suggests.
- Good hygiene, mask-wearing, and social distancing while resting seem to effective in keeping babies safe while also allowing them to benefit from breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact.
- While two of the 101 babies studied tested positive for COVID, they were asymptomatic and healthy. Past research shows even strict post-birth prevention measures don’t always prevent transmission.
Separating a new mom with the coronavirus from her baby immediately after birth may not be necessary in order to protect the infant from COVID-19, according to the most detailed study on transmission of the novel coronavirus between moms and babies to date.
In fact, the tactic — used in some hospitals per the guidance of some pediatric and health organizations when less was known about the risks COVID-positive moms may pose to their newborns — may do more harm than good by, for example, discouraging breastfeeding, the study, published today in JAMA Pediatrics, suggests.
“Some of the [prior] recommendations conflict with what we know about the developmental benefits of early breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact,” lead author Dr. Dani Dumitriu, an assistant professor of pediatrics in psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said in a press release.
“Our study shows that these measures may not be necessary for healthy newborns with COVID-positive moms.”
Only 2 of 101 infants studied were COVID-positive, but had no symptoms and remained healthy
For the study, researchers looked at 101 infants who were born to moms with COVID-19 between March 13 and April 24 at two NewYork-Presbyterian hospitals.
Most moms and infants weren’t separated after birth, though some needed to, for example, if the babies needed intensive care due to non-COVID related issues.
For those who remained together, the hospital implemented other COVID transmission prevention measures like putting the pair in private rooms where the babies stayed in protective cribs six feet away when resting.
Hospital staffers also practiced social distancing, wore masks, and discharged the women earlier than typical if they didn’t have complications requiring a longer stay.
Moms were also strongly encouraged to breastfeed and initiate skin-to-skin contact, so long as they wore masks and washed their hands and breasts.
Two of the newborns tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, but didn’t have any symptoms. Two weeks later, they remained in good health.
“Our findings should reassure expectant mothers with COVID-19 that basic infection-control measures during and after childbirth … protected newborns from infection in this series,” senior author Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, a maternal-fetal medicine expert at NewYork-Presbyterian said in the press release.
“We think it’s particularly important that mothers with COVID-19 have the opportunity to directly breastfeed their newborns,” she added, noting that breast milk may protect newborns against the coronavirus.
It’s unclear how the two babies with COVID contracted the illness
Most research to date suggests COVID-19 is unlikely to be transmitted in utero.
One small study, for example, found that even moms with placental damage, presumably due to the virus, didn’t transmit the virus to their infants.
While it’s possible the infants in the current study contracted it after birth, there’s no guarantee stricter prevention measures would have prevented it. A trio of studies out March 26 showed that some babies still tested positive for COVID-19 when strict prevention measures were taken after birth.
As the current study supports, even when infants test positive for COVID-19, they tend to fare well. A study out March 17 of 2,000 kids in China who were diagnosed with COVID-19, researchers found that just over 10% of all infants ended up in a severe condition.
As doctors continue to learn more about how the virus affects pregnant women and their babies, experts recommend women do what they can to manage the anxiety about the unknown.
One report showed pregnant women and new moms, who are already vulnerable to depression and anxiety, are experiencing remarkably high rates — 41% and 72% respectively — of those symptoms now.
“There are going to be a lot of emotions, some of which are sadness, grief and the unknown,” Dr. Jane van Dis, an OB-GYN who serves as medical director at the telemedicine network Maven, previously told Business Insider. “Just know that connecting with people who are there to support women is essential for mental health.”