What to Know About Pregnancy and COVID-19

Having a baby is one of the most exciting times in a person’s life. But it can also be nerve-racking. On top of it, being pregnant during a pandemic comes with additional concerns and challenges. 

Having COVID-19 (sometimes referred to as coronavirus) during pregnancy slightly increases your risk of severe illness and complications. However, there are ways to reduce the risk for yourself and your baby. 

Understanding expert recommendations while research is continuously changing is also challenging. This article aims to help by reviewing current information about pregnancy and COVID-19 risk, complications, treatment, and safety precautions. 

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Pregnancy and COVID-19 Risk

Research suggests that pregnancy does not increase the risk of contracting the virus causing COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2). However, it confirms that having COVID-19 while pregnant slightly increases the risk of severe infection, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, and the need for mechanical ventilation (breathing machine).

COVID-19 and Pregnancy Research Studies

Because COVID-19 is still a fairly new disease, research is ongoing and results are sometimes conflicting. Some data is from the initial stages of the pandemic or the delta variant, and the sample size is small. 

In addition to available research on COVID-19, scientists and healthcare providers also look to other, similar diseases to understand how illness affects pregnancy. For example, the original severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) show that people are more vulnerable to viral respiratory infections while pregnant. 

Increased vulnerability to infection during pregnancy is due to changes in the heart, lungs, and immune system. These changes are normal and are often mechanisms to protect the pregnancy and the baby. 

Changes to the Heart and Lungs During Pregnancy

The way the body pumps and carries blood and oxygen to the rest of the body changes slightly during pregnancy, when oxygen need and usage are greater. The heart rate goes up to meet the body’s demand for more oxygen. 

Additionally, the following changes in the respiratory (breathing) system affect how the pregnant body produces and exchanges oxygen:

  • Mild swelling to the respiratory tract and lungs 
  • Changes in the rib cage and a growing uterus (womb) that make it more challenging to take deep breaths or hold as much air
  • More mucus being produced in the respiratory tract

Why Pregnancy Changes Increase the Risk of Severe Illness With COVID-19

When an illness such as COVID-19 develops, it causes more swelling and mucus in the respiratory system. It becomes more difficult for the pregnant body to move oxygen in and out of the lungs. The heart responds by pumping harder. If this continues for an extended period, the body cannot pump enough blood or oxygen, causing life-threatening illness. 

Changes in the Immune System During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the immune response decreases slightly. This is so the body doesn’t see the baby as a foreign object and rejects it. The immune system also provides protection to the baby. These changes increase the pregnant parent's vulnerability to infection. 

Additional risk factors for experiencing severe illness with COVID-19 while pregnant include: 

  • Older age (over 35) while pregnant
  • Obesity
  • Preexisting conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes (especially with multiple preexisting conditions)
  • Being unvaccinated
  • Gestational diabetes 

Pregnancy COVID-19 Statistics

The United States documented 198,598 pregnant people with COVID-19 from January 22, 2020, to April 11, 2022. Hospitalization data were available for 160,857 cases. The following information is from that data:

  • 31,959 pregnant people were hospitalized.
  • 700 were admitted to the ICU (ICU data were only available for 18,764 of those patients).
  • 287 of those pregnant patients died.


Another sample of research studies showed the following statistics:

  • 90% of pregnant people recover from COVID19 without hospitalization.
  • 9.9% of pregnant people with COVID-19 got pneumonia (6.5% in the nonpregnant group).
  • 11.3 % had a severe illness.
  • 13% were admitted to ICU (6.9% in the nonpregnant group).
  • 1.6% of pregnant people with COVID-19 received mechanical ventilation.
  • 0.8% of pregnant people with COVID-19 died.

Complications of Pregnancy and COVID-19

In most but not all studies, pregnant people with COVID-19 have an increased risk of pregnancy complications, such as preterm delivery (less than 37 weeks). One study showed an 8.8% rate of preterm delivery with COVID-19 compared to 5.5% without it.

There is also a 62% higher chance of developing preeclampsia with COVID-19. The risk of complications is higher when the virus causing COVID-19 is contracted after 26 weeks of pregnancy and with critical illness from COVID-19.

COVID-19 infection rates from the birthing parent to the baby during pregnancy is 2%. However, there has only been a small sample of well-documented cases to study. 

Research does not show an increased risk of miscarriage or congenital anomalies (health conditions present at birth). As many as 95% of the newborns remain uninfected and in good condition at birth. 

Does COVID-19 Increase the Risk of Having a Stillborn Infant?

Much of the research on this is from the time of the delta variant (July through September of 2021, before omicron). Early findings show the delta variant causes a 2.7% risk of having a stillborn infant compared to the 0.63% in the non-COVID-19 group.


This was especially true for pregnant parents with multiple preexisting health conditions, multiple babies (twins, triplets, etc.), or severe illnesses. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 tend to be the same in pregnant and nonpregnant individuals. However, some symptoms overlap with typical pregnancy symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea or vomiting

It’s also worth noting that early symptoms can be similar to other respiratory infections, including influenza, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and pneumonia.

The following are signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and pregnancy complications such as HELLP (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count) syndrome, preeclampsia, and eclampsia:

Acute hypertension (sudden high blood pressure) and uterine bleeding are examples of symptoms of pregnancy complications rather than COVID-19. This, along with diagnostic tests, can help healthcare providers distinguish between the two.

Pregnancy Risk for People With Long COVID

The long-term consequences of COVID-19 during pregnancy are still being researched. On November 2, 2021, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it was conducting a four-year study for 1,500 patients and their children. 


The NIH study will gather data to see if pregnancy increases the risk for long COVID. Long COVID is when someone with COVID-19 has lingering symptoms for weeks or months after recovery. It is referred to as post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC) and the people with this complication are called long-haulers.

Pregnancy Treatments and COVID-19


Treatment of COVID-19 during pregnancy is similar to non-pregnancy treatment. Mild COVID-19 usually requires rest, hydration, and infection prevention for your loved ones. 

If you develop worsening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing up blood, dehydration, dizziness, or confusion, treatment might include: 

  • Diagnostic and imaging tests
  • Hospitalization 
  • Oxygen or breathing treatments
  • Medications such as antivirals, monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), steroids, blood thinners, and immunomodulators 
  • Antibiotics (if there is a bacterial infection along with COVID-19)
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Plasma
  • Proning (lying on the stomach to help with breathing)
  • Mechanical ventilation (for severe cases)

While treatment is similar to treating nonpregnant people with COVID-19, the following interventions are specific to pregnancy: 

  • Use of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) algorithm to assess severity and risk
  • Maternal and fetal monitoring, when appropriate 
  • A team-based approach to delivery, which may include consultations with maternal-fetal, pulmonary-critical care, or infectious diseases specialists 
  • Use of abdominal radiation shield when performing imaging studies with radiation 
  • Checking medication safety during pregnancy (or breastfeeding)
  • Possibly avoiding proning as an option

A pregnant person, even with mild COVID-19, qualifies for antiviral treatment since pregnancy is considered high risk. Therefore, treatment with antivirals, such as Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir), Veklury (remdesivir) or monoclonal antibodies, or high-titer convalescent plasma (plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 that contains a high level of neutralizing antibodies) may be considered.

How to Stay Safe

Decreasing your risk of exposure is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby. Protective measures include the following. 

Handwashing

Try to wash your hands before eating, preparing food, or touching your face. It’s also best to wash them after using the restroom, leaving a public place, coughing, and changing diapers.

Avoid Exposure

Try to limit exposure by:

  • Staying 6 feet away from others in public
  • Avoiding close contact with sick household members
  • Avoiding poorly ventilated spaces and crowds
  • Opening windows to allow in fresh air when possible
  • Wearing a mask
  • Avoiding unnecessary trips out

Avoiding Unnecessary Exposure From Healthcare Appointments

While it’s important to decrease your risk of exposure to COVID-19, it is also vital to receive prenatal care during pregnancy. Many healthcare providers use the following methods to keep patients from coming to a healthcare facility too often:


  • Telehealth visits and helplines: The use of technology for providers to meet with patients may be appropriate when a physical examination or labs are unnecessary. 
  • Grouping care: This often includes grouping laboratory or imaging tests with in-person appointments. 
  • Home monitoring: When appropriate, some patients may need to self-monitor and report their blood pressure, glucose, and urine protein. 

Testing and Vaccination

You and your loved ones can test often, using an over-the-counter (OTC) rapid self-test. A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is preferred when you have symptoms, known exposure, or a positive rapid test. 

Telehealth PCR Tests

Check online for PCR tests offered through telehealth visits. If you do have symptoms or test positive, notify your healthcare provider. 

Experts recommend the COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy. Research shows it is safe and effective in preventing severe illness and life-threatening complications. 

One study showed that taking two doses of the vaccine during pregnancy reduces COVID-19 hospitalizations for babies less than 6 months old. This is important because newborns and infants are at the highest risk of complications. 

Summary

While pregnancy does not increase the risk of developing COVID-19, having COVID-19 during pregnancy increases the risk of severe illness and life-threatening complications. The increased risk is due to changes in the hearts, lungs, and immune system during pregnancy. 

Treatment for COVID-19 is similar to treating nonpregnant people, with a few exceptions. For pregnant people, treatment includes using the ACOG algorithm, maternal and fetal monitoring, medication safety, team-based delivery planning, and abdominal shielding with imaging studies that use radiation. 

Prevention of COVID-19 includes handwashing, avoiding exposure, testing, and vaccination. 

A Word From Verywell

Making a decision about pregnancy or becoming pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic can be overwhelming. For those who are pregnant or may become pregnant, follow guidelines from health officials to decrease your risk of getting COVID-19. Experts recommend vaccination for those who are pregnant. Research shows it is safe and effective in preventing severe illness and life-threatening complications.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I am pregnant?

    Yes, the COVID-19 vaccination is recommended during pregnancy. Research shows it is safe and effective in preventing severe illness and life-threatening complications. 

  • Is COVID-19 more dangerous for pregnant women?

    Yes, COVID-19 can be more dangerous for pregnant women, especially those who are unvaccinated. This is due to changes in the lungs, heart, and immune system during pregnancy. 

  • Do pregnant people have a higher chance of serious complications from COVID-19?

    Pregnant people, especially those who are unvaccinated, have a higher risk of severe disease, complications, and delivering before full term. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed. As new research becomes available, we’ll update this article. For the latest on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC
Brandi is a nurse and the owner of Brandi Jones LLC. She specializes in health and wellness writing including blogs, articles, and education.