Well-Being Medical Advances

Transmission of COVID-19 to babies before, during or after birth is rare: study

AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File

Story at a glance

  • Babies born to mothers with COVID-19 have a small chance of contracting the virus in utero or after birth, a new study found.
  • An international team of researchers looked at data from more than 472 studies on the births of more than 18,000 children and found that only 2 percent of babies born to mothers with the virus end up testing positive for COVID-19.
  • More research is needed to fully understand the risks the virus poses to babies, but the new study sheds light on the likelihood of a mother passing the virus to her child.

The chance of a pregnant person passing COVID-19 to their baby is low, a new study shows.  

Fewer than 2 percent of babies born to pregnant individuals with COVID-19 also test positive for the virus, according to a study published this month in the scientific journal BMJ. 

An international research team led by the University of Birmingham’s WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Women’s Health examined data from 472 studies that involved more than 18,000 infants born to COVID-19 positive parents from around the world to craft their findings. 


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Researchers found that while 1.8 percent of babies born to parents with COVID-19 also tested positive for the virus, the odds of a newborn testing positive increased if the parent had severe COVID-19 or was diagnosed with the disease after giving birth.  

Vaginal birth and breast feeding did not increase the chances of a baby testing positive for the virus when their parent had COVID-19, researchers also found.  

Although the world is now in year three of the COVID-19 pandemic and millions of people have contracted the virus, scientists still do not have a full understanding of the risks associated with contracting the virus when pregnant.  

The new study helps to shed some much-needed light on the risk posed to babies when their parents are infected. In an editorial to the study, Associate Professor at the University of Hawaii Catherine McLean Pirkle wrote that the findings from the study “seem reassuring.”  

“Although the results indicate that mother-to-child transmission is possible in utero during the antenatal period, during labour or delivery (intrapartum), and after delivery (postpartum), rates of positivity among infants born to mothers with SARS-CoV-2 are low,” Pirkle wrote.  

“Ours is the first study to use the World Health Organization’s stringent methods to show that it is possible for the virus to be spread from the mother to baby while in the womb, during childbirth, and after delivery,” said Shakila Thangaratinam, professor of maternal and Perinatal Health at the University of Birmingham and lead author of the study. “Parents and healthcare professionals can be reassured that only a very small proportion of babies born to mothers with SARS-CoV-2 test positive.” 

Thangaratinam added that parents should also be reassured that there is a low-risk of transmitting COVID-19 via vaginal birth, skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding.  

Health care professionals and policy makers should still be aware that babies can be infected with the virus at any time during pregnancy and delivery, Thangaratinam added.  

Researchers also noted that babies born to parents who are positive for COVID-19 should be tested after birth and monitored closely, and vaccination during pregnancy should be encouraged to prevent infection and severe complications in parents. 


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