When you discover you’re pregnant, there’s always lots to think about – and that’s before you add a pandemic and lockdown into the mix.
Here’s what you need to know about how your pregnancy might be affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, from antenatal services through to buying newborn essentials such as baby monitors and baby car seats during lockdown.
What to do when you discover you’re pregnant
Before the pandemic, your first port of call after your positive pregnancy test would be your doctor, but what’s the situation right now?
Following your home pregnancy test, you should contact your GP, who will consult with you over the phone, assist with any concerns you may have and explain the next steps.
They will also give you advice around nutrition and supplements while pregnant, such as taking folic acid.
Your GP will then refer you to your local maternity services, or provide instructions for self-referral.
Following this, the maternity unit will be in touch to confirm when your first antenatal appointment will be, and provide contact details in case you have any concerns in the meantime.
A spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said: ‘Learning about a new pregnancy during the coronavirus pandemic may cause worry, but it’s important to know that maternity teams are working tirelessly to ensure services are providing safe care to women.’
How antenatal appointments are working during the pandemic
Antenatal care is vital for the wellbeing of both you and your baby and guidance from the RCOG and the Royal College of Midwives says a minimum of six face-to-face antenatal consultations should take place for mums-to-be during the coronavirus pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, you’d have your first face-to-face antenatal appointment, known as your booking appointment at around 8-12 weeks and a dating scan between 10-14 weeks.
However, during the coronavirus pandemic, these may be combined.
An RCOG spokesperson says: ‘Wherever possible, scans and antenatal appointments and other investigations should be provided within a single visit, involving as few staff as possible.’
‘Low risk women should, where possible, be offered a booking appointment at the same time as their routine screening blood test and antenatal scan (a ‘one-stop clinic’).’
If this can’t be done, your scan and blood tests should still be done on the same day, and your booking appointment will be offered to you either by phone or videocall.
Many elements of antenatal care still require in-person assessment, in particular blood pressure and urine checks, measurement of fetal growth and blood tests, so these will still take place when needed.
If you are one of the 50% of women who have a condition or complication that means they need extra appointments or multidisciplinary care during pregnancy, any appointments that don’t require blood or urine tests, measuring your baby or scans, will be provided remotely via video or teleconferencing.
- You may be asked to attend appointments alone or with a single member of your household.
- The government considers travelling to and from medical appointments to be essential travel, so don’t feel concerned about making a trip for this purpose.
- If you have coronavirus symptoms you should contact your midwife, who will be able to reschedule any face-to-face appointments or change them to a phone or a video call instead.
- NHS antenatal classes will still be happening, but remotely – so contact your maternity service to find out how it will support you.
- If you’re doing NCT (National Childbirth Trust) classes, they will be in a virtual format for the foreseeable future.
Staying safe from coronavirus while pregnant
There are several terms that you might have heard being used in relation to pregnant women right now. Here’s what they mean:
Pregnant women are being classed as ‘vulnerable’ during the pandemic as a precautionary measure, because the amount of evidence available about COVID-19 is still quite limited.
A spokesperson for the RCOG said: ‘It’s reassuring to know that current evidence shows that pregnant women and their babies are not at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus compared with other healthy adults, but as a group of women who may be vulnerable to severe effects of coronavirus, they should continue to follow government measures on social distancing.’
As a result of being classed as vulnerable, pregnant women are being asked to observe the following social distancing measures:
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Use a tissue when you or anyone in your family coughs or sneezes, discard it then wash your hands.
- Avoid contact with those showing symptoms, such a high temperature and/or new continuous cough.
- Avoid non-essential use of public transport where possible.
- Work from home if you can.
- Avoid large and small gatherings in public places.
- Avoid gatherings with friends and family, and contact them using remote technology instead.
- Use telephone or online services to contact your GP and other essential services.
Read more about the Government’s guidance on social distancing.
As well as social distancing, additional shielding measures have been announced for people defined on medical backgrounds to be at very high risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus.
This includes pregnant women with significant heart disease (congenital or acquired) and they are considered not to be just vulnerable but ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’.
It is because of this that they have been advised to adopt shielding measures. An RCOG spokesperson says: ‘The Government is currently advising people to shield until the end of June and is regularly monitoring this position.’
If this is you, it’s strongly recommended that you:
- don’t attend gatherings at all
- don’t leave the house
- don’t greet anyone at the front door, even for deliveries
- strictly avoid contact with those displaying coronavirus symptoms.
Read more about the Government’s guidance on shielding.
It might be that you’re asked to self-isolate, as opposed to simply reducing social contact.
This may be because you have symptoms of coronavirus, such as a high temperature or new, continuous cough, or you have tested positive for coronavirus and been advised to recover at home.
If you’re advised to self-isolate, you should stay indoors and avoid contact with others for seven days. If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.
The NHS guidance on self-isolation currently recommends that you should:
- not go to school, work, NHS settings or public areas
- not use public transport
- stay at home and not allow visitors
- open windows to ventilate rooms
- separate yourself as much as possible from other members of your household, including using your own towels, crockery and utensils, and eating at different times
- use friends, family or delivery services to run errands, but advise them to leave items outside.
You might also wish to consider online fitness routines to keep active, such as Pilates or pregnancy yoga.
Pregnancy worries during the pandemic
Generally, pregnant women don’t seem more likely to be seriously unwell than other healthy adults if they develop coronavirus.
Guidance from the RCOG says: ‘It is expected the large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu symptoms. Cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache and loss of sense of smell are other relevant symptoms.’
However, if you’re in your first trimester (the first 12 weeks of pregnancy) and have any concerns about yourself or your pregnancy, it’s important that you contact your GP, midwife or local early pregnancy unit immediately.
The RCOG says: ‘Some symptoms, such as pelvic pain, cramping and/or bleeding during early pregnancy, are linked to ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage, so you should seek urgent medical advice.’
A telephone appointment will be arranged for you as soon as possible with your early pregnancy unit to check your symptoms, and they will advise whether you need to visit the hospital.
Although one of the ways hospitals are trying to reduce the spread of the virus and its impact on services is to minimise the number of people entering them, they are also organised in such a way that they’re able to provide all acute services.
Working when you’re pregnant during the coronavirus epidemic
If you’re pregnant and able to work from home, you should do so.
If you can’t work from home and you’re in a public-facing role that can be modified appropriately to minimise your exposure, this should be considered and discussed with your occupational health team.
Guidance from the RCOG, updated on 26 March, recommends that if you’re in your first or second trimester (less than 28 weeks pregnant) and don’t have any underlying health conditions, you should practise social distancing but you can choose to continue to work in a public-facing role, provided the necessary precautions of personal protective equipment (PPE) and risk assessment are taken.
If you’re a pregnant healthcare worker in the first two trimesters of your pregnancy, where possible you should avoid caring for patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus.
The RCOG says that pregnant women shouldn’t be required to continue working if it’s not supported by a risk assessment, and that suitable alternative work should be offered.
An RCOG spokesperson said: ‘We will continue to work closely with the RCM [Royal College of Midwives] and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine over the coming weeks and months to ensure pregnant women, including healthcare workers, can get the advice and support they need at this very challenging time, based on the best available evidence.’
What to buy for your pregnancy and birth, and when to buy it
Apart from the odd item from the pharmacy or supermarket, such as nappies or toiletries, most of your pregnancy and baby-related buys will probably be virtual at the moment.
This means that not only are your choices likely to be affected by reduced availability of items, but it also means you’re likely to be buying something without actually having tried it first.
Rest assured, most products for your newborn don’t need to be bought early on in your pregnancy – and some, such as baby monitors, can wait until you’ve actually given birth – which means you may well be able to wait until lockdown is over to see them in store before you buy.
However, if you want to start getting ready now, it’s worth knowing that many retailers have altered their returns policies until after lockdown has finished, giving you extra time to return goods if they’re not quite right.
Many retailers are still selling online during the pandemic, and although those that would usually offer a car seat fitting service in store are currently unable to do so, some are finding ways to make the process as seamless as possible.
For example, Maxi-Cosi is offering a 100-day trial to check you’re happy with whichever car seat or pushchair you want to buy.
Which? has compiled a table, showing where you can buy car seats, and whether there are any changes to deliveries and returns from major retailers and manufacturers during this time.
You can keep up to date on our latest coverage on our coronavirus advice hub.
Please check out Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for any more recent updates.