Coronavirus, your pregnancy and cord blood banking

While we are all united in the fight against coronavirus (or COVID-19), there are many questions arising from expectant mothers about how the virus could affect pregnancy and cord blood banking. To keep you safe and in-the-know, we have compiled some of the most commonly asked questions and answers on these important topics.

It’s important to point out that coronavirus (COVID-19) is not a flu virus, although the symptom and nature of its spread are similar to those of a flu. With this in mind, guidance is based partly on previous research around pregnancy and flu viruses.

Do pregnant women have a higher risk of catching COVID-19?
Clinical advice from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that pregnant women are not at increased risk for COVID-19. However, they warn that pregnant women could be at risk of developing severe symptoms if they were to catch it. This is because changes that occur during pregnancy cause a weaker immune system and a greater strain on the heart and lungs.

If you are pregnant you should follow strict precautions to avoid exposure to COVID-19. If you are pregnant and suspect that you have COVID-19, you should tell your doctor immediately.

If I catch COVID-19 during pregnancy, will it affect the baby?
If the mother becomes severely ill during pregnancy, there could be an increased risk of miscarriage or premature labor. Once again, if you are pregnant and suspect you have COVID-19, you should tell your doctor immediately.

Can COVID-19 be transferred to the baby during pregnancy?
In most cases, the placenta blocks diseases and infections from spreading from mother to baby while they are in the womb. In a large hospital study, there was no evidence of trans-placental transmission of the flu from mother to baby. In the case of COVID-19, initial studies from China suggest that the coronavirus may sometimes be transmitted from mother to baby, but more studies are required to confirm this.

Can COVID-19 be transferred to the baby after birth?
It’s important to also remember that COVID-19 can be transmitted from mother to baby after birth through close contact. Three newborn babies have developed mild signs of COVID-19, but all recovered in the first two weeks of life.
In this situation, it’s advised that the mother pumps her milk and allows another caregiver to feed and handle the baby until the mother has recovered. There is no evidence yet that COVID-19 can be transmitted through breast milk.

Can umbilical cord blood carry COVID-19?
Studies so far show that umbilical cord blood cannot contain COVID-19, even if the mother catches it during pregnancy. For this reason, the FDA does not recommend tests to screen blood donors for COVID-19 and you will be allowed to bank cord blood stem cells for your child.

In a study of nine births in Wuhan, China, all nine mothers suffered from COVID-19 and their babies were delivered via C-section. While the babies were still in the sterile operating room, samples were collected of their amniotic fluid and cord blood. All nine samples tested negative for COVID-19, so mother’s need not worry about the virus being present in umbilical cord blood or tissue.

Do maternal antibodies provide immunity for the baby?
As your baby grows in the womb, the placenta protects it from diseases by allowing maternal antibodies to pass into the baby’s blood. The baby inherits its mother’s immune system and resistance until about the age of six months.

If a mother has had the coronavirus and recovered, she carries protective antibodies that have been shown to pass onto the baby. A small study in Wuhan, China confirmed that when 6 mothers who were sick with COVID-19 gave birth, all of their babies had antibodies to COVID-19 in their blood.

Is COVID-19 a reason to bank cord blood?
The worldwide spread and impact of the coronavirus has made many parents more mindful of how to protect their children’s future health. As a result, enquiries about cord blood stem cell banking are increasing.

While there are some early-phase studies into stem cells and the coronavirus, there is no evidence of a preventative link. However, the motivation for banking cord blood remains. If you choose a private bank, this service provides your child with a rich source of stem cells that can be preserved and stored to treat potential future illnesses.

Is it safe to bank cord blood or tissues during the pandemic?
Yes. Normally, mothers are regularly tested for diseases or illnesses that may affect the cord blood or tissue collection at birth. All banks, private or public, are also screening their clients’ medical histories for risk of COVID-19.

Cord blood banks are therefore running as normal. Although you should speak to your GP, midwife or hospital to know what collection services will be available.

I have an umbilical cord sample already stored in a stem cell bank. Is it safe from contamination?
Whether you have your child’s sample is stored in a private or public bank, it poses no risk of COVID-19 contamination. Most samples were collected and safety cryopreserved well before the pandemic broke out.
The vapour-phase liquid nitrogen that surrounds each sample is also believed to prevent transmission of viruses and other contaminants. A further precaution, public banks are screening potential donors and private banks are screening families opening new contracts, to be sure they do not have a risk for COVID-19.

Can COVID-19 be passed on through a cord blood or tissue transplant?
There are no known reports of coronavirus transmission in a transplant. In fact, there are no documented cases of respiratory viruses being transmitted to a patient by transplant, implant or infusion of cells or tissues.

Could cord blood stem cells play a role in treating COVID-19?
Cord blood and cord tissue are being studied to find out whether they could be used to manufacture cell therapies to fight COVID-19. However, there is no hard evidence yet.

Promising clinical trials are underway in Asia, Europe and the United States, investigating cell therapies with mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC). These could help patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which often is a fatal complication of COVID-19.