The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women are at risk of developing COVID-19, compared to other women. Additionally, there may be a risk of adverse pregnancy consequences like preterm birth. Hence, the CDC urges that pregnant women should take extra precautions to stay safe.
Taking this point into consideration, various medical practitioners were approached to understand why pregnant women are more vulnerable, and what relevant steps can be taken to deal with the condition effectively.
Why are pregnant women at risk of COVID-19?
COVID-19 usually affects the r0e.spiratory system causing the cough, fever, and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, it may cause the severe acute respiratory syndrome, pneumonia, and death. As there is no specific drug available to combat COVID-19, developing strong immunity is the only available alternative.
DR. K PRABHA DEVI, Gynaecologists and Obstetricians – Vijaywada said, “In women without pregnancy, haemoglobin is usually around 14gm. However, in pregnant women, it should be more than bara (12) gm. During pregnancy, there is an altered immune response to viral infections, there are marked symptoms and a worse course of the disease, especially for women in the third trimester.
The iron content in haemoglobin is required to proliferate immune cells, in relation to the development of a specific response to infection, such as COVID-19. Hence, pregnant women should maintain a normal haemoglobin level above 12 g/dl to develop stronger immunity. By the 8th week of pregnancy, the plasma volume increases more than red blood cell volume, thereby decreasing haemoglobin to 11gm/dl, called as physiological anaemia. If it falls below 11gm%, termed as anaemia.
This anaemic condition not only increases the risk of premature delivery, maternal, and perinatal mortality but it also weakens the immune system and makes pregnant women more prone to infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 60% of pregnant women have anaemia worldwide. Hence, it is mandatory to maintain the haemoglobin level above 12, especially in pregnant women. There are much iron-rich food like Soya Bean, Chickpeas, Red Meat, Liver, Nuts etc that can be included in the diet.
What are the measures to be taken to maintain the normal haemoglobin level and enhance immunity?
There are three types of haemoglobin related issues such as iron-deficiency anaemia, folate deficiency anaemia, and vitamin-B12 deficiency experienced by females during pregnancy. These issues can be resolved by consuming the appropriate nutritional supplements as advised by the doctor.
Moreover, Dr. Sangeeta Rai, Gynaecologist & Obstetrician DoctorsInfertility Doctors – Varanasi said, “From the cases we dealt with, we did not find any instance of transmission of the virus from the pregnant mother to the infant even though that possibility cannot be ruled out. Hence, pregnant women should always do their best for maintaining a strong immune system and a healthy level of haemoglobin in order to combat any infection, including COVID-19.”
Dr. Smithy Sanal George, Sr. Consultant, Obstetrician and gynaecologist – Ernakulam said, “Nutrition is the major factor to improve immunity in pregnant women. A change in diet may help to replace folate, iron, vitamin B12, and C, without which you could end up with haemoglobin insufficiency. Fruits, dark leaf vegetables, milk, and milk products can help you to fill the gap.”
Dr. George said, “Iron supplementation during pregnancy is essential as it basically complements iron-rich food consumption. Iron supplements are prescribed because only 10% of the overall iron consumed is absorbed by the body. Moreover, although folate is present in different types of food, it gets degraded because of cooking and other food-processing activities. Hence, women should also take folic acid supplements. Hence, although consuming iron- and folate-rich foods is important, pregnant women should take iron and folate supplements to prevent iron & folate deficiency.”
Additionally, DR SHAKUNTLA KUMAR, MBBS, DGO,FICOG, Gynecologist, Obstetrician- Delhi further added, “Anemia is a global concern among pregnant women worldwide, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that pregnant women should highly focus on their diet and overall health so that their haemoglobin levels are maintained more than bara 12. Although there is no medical correlation between haemoglobin levels and the risk of complications due to COVID-19 infection established so far, I highly advise women to consciously care for their haemoglobin level during pregnancy to avoid serious complications in the face of an infection.”