Low risk of coronavirus infection in babies born to moms who test positive

The study analyzed almost 90,000 births that occurred in Sweden between March 11, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021

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A new study is backing the guidance that babies born to mothers infected with coronavirus should not be separated after delivery. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the Public Health Agency of Sweden said that while the babies born to mothers who tested positive for the virus are likely to be born early, few were actually sickened with coronavirus themselves.

The study, published in JAMA, analyzed almost 90,000 births that occurred in Sweden between March 11, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021. Within the data, researchers identified 2,323 babies who were born to SARS-CoV-2-positive mothers. About one-third of the moms in this subset tested positive close to or just after childbirth, and only 21% of babies tested positive for the virus in the first 28 days post-birth. The majority of babies who tested positive did not have symptoms, according to the research, which was published on EurekAlert.org.

The researchers say the evidence backs the WHO-issued guidance that COVID-19-positive mothers and newborns do not need to be separated after birth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance for mothers who are sick with COVID-19 but choose to room-in with their newborns such as washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer and wearing a mask within 6 feet of the baby. It also advises keeping the newborn "more than 6 feet away from you as much as possible" and to "discuss with your health care provider ways to protect your newborn, such as using a physical barrier (for example, placing the newborn in an incubator) while in the hospital."


Current guidance in Sweden, where the study was based, also states that babies born to women who have tested positive for coronavirus while pregnant or during delivery do not need to be separated from their mothers after birth.


"Separating a newborn baby from its mother is a serious intervention with negative consequences for the health of both mother and baby that must be weighed against the possible benefits," Mikael Norman, professor of pediatrics at the Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology at Karolinska Institutet, and one of the lead researchers said in the news release posted to EurekAlert.org. "Our study suggests that mother and baby can be cared for together and that nursing can be recommended without danger to the baby’s health. This is good news for all pregnant women, their babies and postnatal and neonatal staff."


Pregnant people are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, with multiple studies suggesting that it might result in ICU admission, mechanical ventilation or even death. It has also been linked to other adverse outcomes such as preterm birth. Currently, studies into the safety and effectiveness of approved COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant women are underway. Early results indicate that the vaccines are both safe for the mother and child, and that pregnant women who receive the vaccine may pass antibodies onto their unborn baby.