Mothers, Babies, and COVID-19

Almost a year ago, Sarah Cuschieri & Stephan Grech titled a Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders article “COVID-19: a one-way ticket to a global childhood obesity crisis?” The point being, mothers and children are not only at risk of death or serious disability. As with so many other health issues, childhood obesity is woven right into the fabric of the coronavirus pandemic.

Much has been written about the effect of the environment on babies and young children. Is the air polluted? Can they get enough healthful food to build their young bodies? Is the noise level harmful? Are their neighborhoods safe to play in? The first and most important environment that a baby ever lives in is its mother’s uterus, and of course “the presence of obesity during pregnancy has been linked with childhood obesity as well as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. ”

The authors go on to say that, as the pandemic picked up steam, pregnant women were recognized as a vulnerable group, and some governments told them to stay home if at all possible. Here is the problem. These women had to monitor their own health, to a very great extent, without the up-close-and-personal guidance they had been led to expect from traditional prenatal care in the pre-COVID years. Thus…

[…] as part of the containment measures to curb the viral spread, most of the routine hospital visits were temporarily cancelled or postponed including the antenatal routine check-ups… Such stress might have led to pregnant women to indulge in easily accessible food while following a sedentary lifestyle with potential weight again and deterrent effects on the unborn child.

In the fall of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control made public what it had learned from keeping track of 598 pregnant women whose infection with COVID-19 had been confirmed. They were more likely than others to be hospitalized and more likely to require the advanced services of the Intensive Care Unit. Just over half of them were asymptomatic, so being diagnosed came as a surprise.

Dr. Jeanne Sheffield of Johns Hopkins wrote at the time,

One-fifth of the hospitalized women had underlying medical conditions. There was a 2% pregnancy loss rate, and a small increase in preterm deliveries.

There is still limited information about whether COVID-19 in particular is associated with pregnancy loss, miscarriage or stillbirth. But we do know that high fevers in pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, can raise the risk of birth defects.

Avoid, avoid, avoid

The very best advice on offer is, do not contract COVID-19. Immune system changes brought about by pregnancy make women more vulnerable to respiratory viruses, among other things. The next thing to avoid is any tendency to ignore or downplay symptoms. An expectant mother who has been exposed to someone with the virus, or who shows any of the classic symptoms, should arrange for testing.

Ideally, mothers hospitalized for the purpose of giving birth are tested upon admission. But why wait until that late date? If there is any reason to suspect that the virus is having its way with an expectant mother, testing is much preferable to the misery of regret.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “COVID-19: a one-way ticket to a global childhood obesity crisis?,”, 11/05/20
Source: “Coronavirus and Pregnancy: What You Should Know,”, undated
Image by Jun Frogosa/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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