Mother-to-Infant COVID-19 Transmission Is Unlikely

Heidi Splete

May 20, 2021

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Mothers exposed to COVID-19 during pregnancy are not likely to transmit the infection to their newborns, data from more than 2,000 women suggest.

"Uncertainty at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to varying postnatal care recommendations for newborns exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in utero," said Margaret H. Kyle, of Columbia University, New York, and colleagues.

The Columbia University Irving Medical Center, an early epicenter of the pandemic, allowed rooming-in and encouraged direct breastfeeding between infected mothers and their newborns while adopting extensive safety measures, the researchers said.

In a study presented at the virtual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies (Poster 141), the researchers conducted a retrospective chart review of all newborns born at the medical center from March 22, 2020, through August 7, 2020. The study was part of Columbia University's ongoing COVID-19 Mother Baby Outcomes (COMBO) initiative to "describe the health and well-being of mother-infant dyads with and without prenatal SARS-CoV-2 infections," according to the researchers.

During the study period, the researchers identified newborns of 327 women who tested positive for COVID-19 at any point during pregnancy and compared them to newborns of 2,125 unexposed women. Demographics were similar between the groups.

Overall, the total test positivity was 0.7% for exposed newborns; 1.0% tested positive on an initial test, and 0% were positive on retest. During the newborn hospital stay and a 2-week follow-up, 0% of all newborns showed clinical evidence of infection.

No significant differences were noted between exposed and unexposed newborns in clinical outcomes including gestational age, mode of delivery, 5-minute Apgar score, heart rate, respiratory rate, or temperature. Although more infants of COVID-19–exposed mothers compared with unexposed mothers had an emergency department visit within the first 14 days of life (6% vs. 3%, P = .002), none of the infants was diagnosed with COVID-19 during these visits. Cough, fever, congestion, or bilirubin were more frequent reasons for emergency department visits in the exposed infants compared with unexposed infants, but these differences were not significant.

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the retrospective design and the limited follow-up period to only the first 2 weeks of life, the researchers noted. In addition, perinatal transmission rates were available only for the 202 newborns who were followed up in the hospital system, they said. However, the results suggest that the risk of mother-to-newborn vertical transmission of COVID-19 remains low, even when mothers are breastfeeding and infants are rooming in, they concluded.

Study Supports Safety of Rooming In

The study is important because of the value of mother and infant bonding, Karalyn Kinsella, MD, a pediatrician in Cheshire, Conn., said in an interview. "We know maternal and infant bonding and breastfeeding are extremely important in the first few days of life," she said. "Initially, COVID-positive moms were separated from their babies during this important time." Kinsella said she was not surprised by the study findings, as they reflect other research that newborns have not been getting infected with COVID-19 from their mothers.

Consequently, the take-home message is that newborns can room in with their mothers in the hospital setting, and they are at low risk for COVID-19 regardless of the mother's exposure history, said Kinsella. Looking ahead, future areas of research could include examining SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in newborns, she noted.

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Kinsella had no financial conflicts to disclose, but serves on the Pediatric News Editorial Advisory Board.

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