Mother and Baby

Your top 12 questions about family safety during coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis


Unless you have been living under a stone since December last year, it won’t have escaped your notice that there is a new virus on the block and it's spreading infection and panic.

For those of us with young families the “Keep Calm & Carry On” approach is not so easy.

With so much information being pumped at us on TV every hour, and with different countries taking different approaches to the crisis, it can be hard to sift out the wheat from the chaff and to know exactly how best to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

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Former Midwife Rachel Fitz-Desorgher has offered her expert advice to answer your top 12 COVID-19 questions…

1. I’m pregnant! Can I pass the virus to my unborn baby?

The placenta really is a very good barrier against infection and, although some viruses can get across, the good news is that, according to the latest advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, there is currently no evidence that the virus can pass to your baby during pregnancy. Also, infected pregnant women do not appear to be at a higher risk of miscarriage or to become more poorly than the general population.

2. How can I protect myself from catching the virus whilst I am pregnant?

Pregnant women are more vulnerable to catching infections because we naturally become more immune-suppressed in order to stop our bodies “rejecting” what is, in reality, only 50% our DNA. So, even without the worry of Covid-19, all pregnant women should practice really good hand hygiene. Every time you come home after being out and, of course, every time you go to the loo, wash your hands with hot water and soap for 20 seconds. 

3. Are newborns more susceptible to coronavirus?

Newborn babies can catch the Covid-19 virus in the same way as anyone else - by coming into contact with someone who is already infected, for long enough. However, there is currently no evidence that Covid-19 causes serious problems in young babies. In any event, if your baby seems unwell and has a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more, you should get them checked by your GP. The Tommys website has lots of great information.

4. My child already has a compromised immune system? What extra precautions should I be taking to protect them.

Currently the advice for everyone is the same, and, as the World Health Organisation says that children are more likely to catch Covid-19 from adults, be scrupulous in insisting that everyone coming into contact with your child washes their hands properly and often, and to stay away if they are at all unwell. Ensure everyone uses a tissue or a sleeve to cough or sneeze into and then immediately bins it before re-washing hands and encourage your child to avoid touching their eyes, mouth and nose with their hands, no matter how clean they are. There are many different conditions affecting the immune system so do speak to your child’s GP for personalised advice on schooling, clubs etc. Great Ormond Street have really useful up-to-date information families with poorly children.

5. Is it safe to breastfeed? If I’m unwell, how do I protect my baby during breastfeeding?

Whenever a bug is doing the rounds in our neighbourhood, we start making antibodies to that bug and these pass into our milk and, therefore, into our baby. There is no evidence that the Covid-19 virus can pass into our milk and, as breast milk is likely to give your baby added antibody protection against Covid-19 as well as all the other bugs that are common at this time of year, the Royal College of Midwives recommend that you carry on breastfeeding. If you have the virus yourself, the benefits of breastfeeding still outweigh the risk of you passing the virus on by coughing or sneezing, but you should wash your hands before and after feeding your baby or handling a breast pump and bottles, wear a face mask during feeding, follow the recommendations for cleaning which came with your pump and consider asking someone who is well to give your expressed milk to your baby with a bottle or specialist baby-feeding cup.

6. My child has mild cold/flu symptoms: When should I call the GP?

Children are far less likely than adults to get very poorly with Covid-19. Because GP surgeries are already so busy at this time of year, the advice is that you should not call your GP at all if you suspect someone in your household has Covid-19. Instead, use this online NHS 111 questionnaire which will guide you as to whether or not your child needs specialist attention.

7. What are the Covid-19 symptoms?

The most common symptoms are a cough, high temperature and shortness of breath. About 80% of infected people will have fairly mild symptoms, 15% will be really poorly and 5% will be critically ill. The UK chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, believes that, once all the data is collected, the mortality rate of this new virus will be around 1% or less.

8. Is it safe to go on public transport?

Advice is changing daily as evidence (and new cases) come to light. However, Public Health England is not currently advising people to stop using public transport. The Covid-19 virus seems to need around 15 minutes of close contact (within around 2 metres) to transfer from person to person. If you can work from home then it is sensible to do so and, if you must use public transport then wash your hands as soon as you can after you arrive at your destination. If you’re poorly, stay home!

9. Should I cancel my next holiday?

Every country has different Covid-managing strategies in place so it is essential that you check the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for the most up-to-date, country specific information before making a decision about holidays. You should also contact your holiday and flight companies to check about cancellations and insurance.

10. Can we still visit grandparents?

A. The elderly are at considerably more risk of being seriously unwell if they catch Covid-19 but, if your family are all well, then it is still fine to have days out to see grandparents - good family ties are vital for everyone’s emotional health and well-being. As always, make sure that everyone follows the advice about hand-washing and good cough/sneeze etiquette, and, if anyone in the family is unwell then stay in touch by phone or online using Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp

11. What extra hygiene precautions can me and my family be taking? 

The single most important factor in keeping ourselves and others well is regular, good hand-washing. Soap strips the bad bacteria without harming our own good bacteria whilst hand-gel kills good and bad alike. So, wherever possible, use soap and water and save gel for when you can’t find a sink. Encourage the children to choose a 20-second song to sing (they can use this great site to create their own hand-washing poster) and ensure you support their good habits by having soap, water and towels easy to reach and use. Teach your family to sneeze into a tissue and then bin it or, if there is no tissue handy, to sneeze and cough into their elbow sleeve. As lovely as it is to have polite children who shake hands with grown-ups, encourage them to greet in a different way - the “Namaste bow” or “foot-bumps” are popular and fun. If someone in the family is poorly then they need to follow these detailed government self-isolation guidelines for a full 7 days.

12. Is the government offering support should the schools close down?

There are currently no plans to close schools in the UK and no information about what, if any, support will be offered if they do. Other countries which have closed schools have provided online lessons but, as the purpose of closures is to minimise group gatherings, alternative childcare options are likely to be very limited at best. 

Finally, as scary as this all feels right now, we live in a world where we can pool our scientific knowledge and expertise quickly using the internet and each new infection also brings new information about Covid-19 and how to beat it. So keep up to date with the very latest NHS advice and ... please wash your hands!


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