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  • Writer's pictureTonya Sauer

Take care of yourself, Momma: why pregnancy is a risk factor for coronavirus

It's all over the news -- Coronavirus. COVID-19. Pandemic.

In a nutshell, COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that we, as a human species, have no natural immunity to. It's highly contagious, spreading easily through droplets by someone coughing or sneezing --though in this Joe Rogan interview, CIDRAP Director Michael Osterholm suggests that just breathing the same air as someone who is infected can potentially infect you.

Who is effected?

We know that mainly those over 60 are most at risk. However, if you have other risk factors (co-morbidities) such as high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases like asthma, or obesity, you are also at a higher risk of serious illness if infected with COVID-19, even if you are younger.

What about pregnant women?

Pregnant women are considered a higher risk for serious illness related to COVID-19. Why?

Pregnancy is a very special time in a woman's life. The hundreds of changes that happen within her body in order to sustain and nourish that new baby growing inside of her takes a lot of coordination. One aspect of that is immunosuppression.

Our immune systems, when working properly, are designed to quickly target and attack foreign "invaders" and so protect us from serious illness or harm. Our bodies remember these "foreign" invaders by their unique genetic codes, making it easier to fight off infections in the future. We build a giant library in our immune systems that provide us with the tools we need to stay healthy and quickly neutralize threats to our bodies.

This is great...except, in pregnancy. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting better mother-baby outcomes to the suppression of the mother's immune system during pregnancy. Why? Because if a mother's immune system saw the baby growing in her uterus as a "threat," it would attack it, causing complications, such as preeclampsia.

So how do our bodies handle this situation? By suppressing our immune system during pregnancy. The baby sheds fetal tissue as it grows and develops, which passes into the mother's bloodstream. The mother's immune system learns the unique genetic code without attacking the baby, if her immune system is suppressed enough.The delicate balance of being able to handle the foreign body (the unique DNA of the baby, which is 1/2 Mom and 1/2 Dad), and being strong enough to protect both mom and baby from danger can be difficult to maintain. That's why usually second pregnancies are easier than the first -- our bodies know what to do!

The data is limited on pregnancy and COVID-19 because it's a new infection. However, we know that pregnant women are more likely to experience illness due to the decrease in their immune response (think flu, yeast infections, and every cold known to womankind), along with other physiological changes. Because of that, pregnancy is a risk-factor.

So, how do you protect yourself, or the pregnant women in your life?

You know the answer.

Wash your hands. Make sure it's for at least 20 seconds and you're scrubbing vigorously (it's friction, not water temperature, that kills germs!)

Cough or sneeze into a tissue, or your elbow. As my friend, Mary, tells her toddler, "Catch it in the corner!" #Idefinitelystolethatline #CatchItInTheCorner

Don't touch your face. Just. Don't.

Best of all, though...Social. Distancing.

I know, I know. Everyone is sick to freaking death of hearing that phrase. But it is honestly one of the best ways to prevent this infection from spreading. By taking away potential "hosts" (i.e. you and me), the virus becomes limited and this is how we reduce and slow community spread, or flatten the curve.

Pregnant moms out there-- Stay home if you can. Limit contact with anyone who is not immediate family or who does not know who they've been in contact with. Have someone grocery shop for you. Drink lots of fluids, eat healthy food, get as much sleep as you can. All these things can help reduce your risk.

And for all of us who know or love pregnant women -- Do these things, too. Don't needlessly expose others or yourself to the virus. Maybe you'll be fine. But it's not about you. It's about the people you love and wanting what's best for them.

The cross is our model for love. It is sacrifice -- total self-giving.

By taking these small ( and yes, sometimes uncomfortable) steps, we express how much we love those around us.

If you're not going to socially distance for yourself, then do it for her.

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