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Study Says Mothers Rarely Transmit COVID-19 Onto Newborn Babies; Infected Babies Mostly Asymptomatic

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(Sanjay Sekhri/TOI, Delhi, BCCL)

The transmission of novel coronavirus infection from mothers to their newborn babies post delivery is largely uncommon, a new study has found. Moreover, the infection rate remains unaffected by factors such as the type of delivery, baby’s close contact with the mother, and breastfeeding.

Several early reports related to COVID-19 and pregnancy suggested that to avoid the risk of coronavirus transmission from mothers to babies, it is best to have caesarean section deliveries, isolate babies after delivery, and practise formula feeding over breastfeeding. However, these guidelines were supported by little to no evidence.

To find conclusive evidence on these links, experts from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham conducted a systematic review of 49 studies, wherein they looked at 666 newborn babies and 655 pregnant women (as some women delivered twins) with confirmed COVID‐19.

Subsequently, researchers found that post delivery, only 28 of the 666 babies (4%) tested positive for COVID-19 infection.

Further, of the 292 women who delivered their babies vaginally, only eight (2.7%) had a baby which tested positive for COVID-19. On the other hand, 20 (5.3%) out of the 364 women with caesarean delivered had babies that tested positive for the virus.

In terms of feeding methods, seven of the 28 infected babies were breastfed, three formula-fed, one was given expressed breast milk, while in 17 neonates, the method of infant feeding was not reported.

These findings, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, indicate that neonatal COVID-19 infection is largely uncommon. Furthermore, the babies that do get infected tend to be largely asymptomatic.

The study also found no notable difference in the infection rates for babies that were born vaginally, breast-fed, or allowed close contact with their mothers immediately after birth.

Dr Walker, the lead author of the study and Clinical Associate Professor in Obstetrics, University of Nottingham, said: “There has been a lot of concern around whether pregnant women should be concerned for the health of their babies if they contract COVID-19. We wanted to look at the outcome for babies whose mothers contracted the virus and see if the route of birth, method of infant feeding and mother/baby interaction increased the risk of babies contracting the virus.

From our results, we are satisfied that the chance of newborn infection with COVID-19 is low. We would also stress that vaginal birth and breastfeeding are safe for mothers who find themselves in these circumstances.”

Dr Jeannette Comeau, a Paediatric Infectious Diseases Physician at Dalhousie University, added: “I am happy to see that the data continues to be reassuring, supporting keeping the mother/infant pair together after birth, underlining that while occasional postnatal infant infection is detected, the clinical course tends to be mild. From the cases of infection in the newborn, we do not have confirmatory evidence that this infection was acquired in the womb or during birth.”

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For the latest news and information on the coronavirus outbreak in India and across the globe, check out our dedicated COVID-19 page.

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