Women who have tested positive for COVID-19 while pregnant may be at risk of placental injuries. The study, conducted by Northwestern University and published in the journal American Journal of Clinical Pathology, looked at the placentas of 16 pregnant women who had tested positive for COVID-19. Thought the sample size is small, this is still the largest study done on the placental health of women with coronavirus.
The study found abnormal blood flow between the mothers and the babies. Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, assistant professor of pathology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine pathologist, told Science Daily:
“Most of these babies were delivered full-term after otherwise normal pregnancies, so you wouldn’t expect to find anything wrong with the placentas, but this virus appears to be inducing some injury in the placenta. It doesn’t appear to be inducing negative outcomes in live-born infants, based on our limited data, but it does validate the idea that women with COVID should be monitored more closely.”
Fifteen of the 16 babies were delivered in the third trimester. One asymptomatic patient miscarried in the second trimester.
The results of this study emphasize how important it is for medical providers to test pregnant mothers for the coronavirus, and to beware of symptoms pregnant mothers may be experiencing that indicate the possible presence of COVID-19.
COVID-19 and placental concerns
A child’s healthy development rests heavily upon the proper functioning of the placenta. A damaged placenta may potentially cause a child long-term or even a lifetime of serious medical problems.
One complication discovered in pregnant mothers with COVID-19 is blood clots in the placenta (intervillous thrombi). Blood clots can restrict the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the baby. This condition can also cause another condition referred to as placental abruption, in which the placenta is completely or partially separated from the uterus. A placental abruption has the potential to completely cut off blood flow to the baby, and is a life-threatening condition for mother and child.
Another particular issue is maternal vascular malperfusion of the placenta. In this condition, due to altered blood flow, the placenta is injured and manifests lesions which can cause preterm births, low birth weight, and greater risks during delivery for low weight babies.