Pregnant women are being urged to attend antenatal appointments as normal after the government said they should be shielded from coronavirus.
The Royal College of Midwives said the appointments were “essential to ensure the wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies”.
The government says limited evidence suggests there are no coronavirus-related complications in pregnancy.
But pregnant women are being advised to limit their social contact.
Officials say they should stay away from others due to the coronavirus – but not to panic, according to new advice.
The guidance, issued on Monday, asks pregnant women to minimise social contact for up to 12 weeks from this weekend.
Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said that despite this, antenatal and postnatal care continue to be important.
“We would urge all pregnant women who are well to attend their care as normal. If you are pregnant and have symptoms of possible coronavirus infection, you should call to defer routine visits until after the isolation period is over,” she said.
Addressing concerns from some pregnant women about contracting the virus in hospitals or clinics, Dr Gaurav Gupta told the BBC that hospitals “can actually be a place of safety”.
“We shouldn’t think of hospitals as a place to avoid at all costs,” he said.
Further guidance for pregnant women from three Royal Colleges is due to be published shortly.
What is the government’s advice for pregnant women?
The government has issued five points that people in at-risk groups such as the over-70s, those with underlying conditions, and pregnant women should follow “as much as you can”:
- Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus. These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough;
- Avoid non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible; Work from home, where possible. Your employer should support you to do this
- Avoid large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs
- Avoid gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
- Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services
The UK government’s chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, said the new advice was needed because the UK was still “very early in what we know about this”.
Pregnant women join other at-risk groups including the over-70s and younger people with underlying conditions – roughly equivalent to those offered the annual flu jab by their GP – in being asked to stay at home.
Prof Whitty said that, for many infectious diseases, “there is a small but appreciable additional risk” and as this was a new virus there was still not enough evidence for people in early stages of pregnancy.
“Infections and pregnancy are not a good combination in general and that is why we have taken the very precautionary measure while we try and find out more,” he explained.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced sweeping new measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus in the UK on Monday – but stopped short of forcing schools to close.
It has led some pregnant mothers to question how they can keep a distance from others.
Dr Punam Krishan, a GP from Glasgow, told BBC Breakfast she did not understand how it would be possible for a pregnant mother like her to stay away from her six-year-old son and do the school run.
She said: “Many pregnant women across the globe have got other children.
“So at the moment, whilst I get the logic of why schools are not closed – my husband also works in the NHS – at the same time, how do I socially distance myself while I have to drop off my son at school.
“My elderly parents are no longer my support system – it’s really scary.”
Hannah Antoniades told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Programme the lack of specific advice was causing her anxiety and led her to decide to isolate her entire family.
She said: “There’s no advice about what we should do with family members – we’ve made the decision to self-isolate.
“It’s quite scary to think we could go into hospital – we all know there is more risk going into hospital with infections.
“There is absolutely no advice about what to do with newborns.”
Pub landlord Danielle Bacchus, who is 17 weeks pregnant, said she has had to isolate in half of her home.
“My assistant manager and husband are having to run the pub,” she said. “I’m taking extra precautions so my husband and staff can continue to run the pub.
“I phoned 111 and explained that I am pregnant and have a medical condition which means my immune system is low.
“I have a lot of doctor appointments and hospital appointments for my B12 injection but how can I leave my home without putting myself at risk? I’m walking around with a Dettol spray.”
The government has stopped short of ordering pregnant women to follow its new advice and is for the moment strongly encouraging them to follow it as “stringently” as they can.
For example, attending things like medical appointments, but avoiding big crowds. If contact with other people is essential, then they should remain 2m (6ft) apart.
The BBC has asked the Department of Health how pregnant mothers can keep their hospital appointments for things like antenatal scans and the school run under the new guidelines.