Risks and Prevention During Pregnancy

Pregnant women need to be aware of and take precautions against several serious illnesses and diseases that could put their unborn babies at risk:

COVID-19, the coronavirus responsible for a global pandemic, may cause more severe illness in pregnant women, including the need to be hospitalized and on a ventilator. The virus, with symptoms that include a persistent cough, fever and shortness of breath, is highly contagious. A vaccine to protect against COVID-19 is available, safe and recommended for pregnant women.

While you may be anxious about being exposed to COVID-19 at prenatal appointments with your healthcare provider, don’t skip these checkups. They’re crucial to your health and that of your developing baby’s. Medical offices have taken steps to protect patients from potential exposure to the virus. If you’re concerned, call your pregnancy care provider and ask about those steps.

Zika virus, an illness typically spread by mosquitoes but also through sex with an infected partner, is linked to a serious birth defect—microcephaly—that causes an enlarged head, incomplete brain development and other problems in babies born to mothers infected with Zika during pregnancy.

In 2016, mosquitoes carrying the virus were reported in at least Florida, Texas, Latin and South America, on several Caribbean islands and in Africa and Asia. Cases of Zika virus contracted while traveling to an infected area were reported in nearly every American state. As of 2020, there have been no reports of Zika transmission in U.S. territories. If you’re traveling, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for any Zika outbreaks at your destination.

Zika remains a concern for pregnant women, particularly those living in or traveling to an area where the virus is present. The CDC advises pregnant women not to travel to Zika-infected areas and not to have sex (except with the proper use of condoms) with a partner who lives in or has traveled to an area with Zika.

Talk with your healthcare provider about Zika and take preventive measures against mosquito bites. 5 things to know about Zika and how to prevent it.

Other Diseases That Pose Serious Risks in Pregnancy

The following diseases in an expectant mother can affect the health of her developing fetus:

  • German measles (rubella) or chicken pox – You’re probably already immune to these, either because you had the disease as a child or because you’ve been vaccinated. (You can be tested if you aren’t sure.)
  • Group B strep and Hepatitis B – You will be or may already have been screened for these.
  • Fifth disease – This occasionally shows up in preschools and childcare facilities. If you have a child in daycare or preschool where this and other infections crop up, be sure to wash your hands after leaving the facility.
  • Whooping cough – If you didn’t have the Tdap (pertussis) vaccine before becoming pregnant, consult with your healthcare provider about when to get it. It is dangerous to a developing fetus and to newborns. Anyone else who will regularly take care of your baby should also have the vaccine. There are 5 times more cases of pertussis (a.k.a. whooping cough) today than there were 10 years ago. Researchers have found that up to 80% of babies caught the disease from family members and caregivers.

Preventing Other Illnesses

These simple precautions will help you avoid other common infections that can affect your baby:

  • Stay away from raw or unpasteurized foods, which can carry illness-causing bacteria.
  • Don’t clean cat litter boxes or come in contact with other animal droppings; a parasite passed in cat feces can cause toxoplasmosis, a potentially deadly infection for a developing fetus.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water—before and after preparing or eating food; after using the toilet; after coming into contact with someone who is ill or a surface that may have been contaminated by infectious bacteria or a virus.

This message is not intended to provide individual medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have about your health or medical condition, your breastfeeding issues and your infant's health. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you have read in our emails, webpages or other electronic communications.

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