A recent study strengthens the evidence that a pregnant woman infected with the coronavirus might be able to spread it to her unborn child.
Researchers from Italy said that they studied 31 women with COVID-19 who delivered babies in March and April. They found signs of the virus in several samples of umbilical cord blood, the placenta, and, in one case, breast milk. Women shouldn’t panic. This doesn’t mean there’s a viable virus in those places and “it’s too early to make guidelines” or to change care, said the study leader, Dr. Claudio Fenizia, an immunology specialist at the University of Milan.
Since the start of the pandemic, doctors have wondered whether in-the-womb infection could occur. HIV, Zika, and some other viruses can infect a foetus this way. Several early reports from China suggested the coronavirus might, too, although doctors suspect those women may have spread the virus to their babies during or after birth.
The new study involved women at three hospitals during the height of the outbreak in northern Italy. The virus’s genetic material was found in one umbilical cord blood sample, two vaginal swabs, and one breast milk sample. Researchers also found specific, anti-coronavirus antibodies in umbilical cord blood and in milk.
Is Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dangerous to Children?
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. There are far fewer cases of the virus reported in children. Most of them caught the infection from someone they lived with or a family member. The virus seems to usually cause a milder infection in children than in adults or older people. But there have been cases of kids developing more serious symptoms, sometimes several weeks after being infected with the virus.
UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency, recommends that new mothers with COVID-19 wear a mask while breastfeeding.