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The Unique Experience of Being Pregnant During a Pandemic

Monique Muldoon holds a onesie up next to a crib

My husband and I are expecting our third child, a baby boy, this July, and we couldn’t be more excited. However, being pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a different experience compared to my previous pregnancies.

When making the decision to grow our family, my husband and I decided we didn’t want to hold off. We took into consideration what was going on with the pandemic, and decided that as long as our family continues to social distance, wear masks, and follow other safety precautions, we would be ok.

I was nervous about being pregnant during the pandemic, but I also knew that a vaccine was on the horizon, and I wanted to do what was right for our family.

Pregnancy and the COVID-19 Vaccine

I was about two months pregnant when the COVID-19 vaccine became available. I was unsure about getting the vaccine, so I started doing research around pregnancy, COVID-19, and the vaccine to decide what was best for me.

According to a CDC study of over 400,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44, (23,434 of whom were pregnant and tested positive for COVID-19), pregnant women were three times more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit, and 2.9 times more likely to receive mechanical ventilation compared to nonpregnant women in the same age group.

While the risk of death among pregnant women with COVID-19 remains low, at 1.5 per 1,000 women, the risk of death is 70 percent higher in pregnant women compared to nonpregnant women. Women undergo physiological changes during pregnancy that may account for this increased risk of severe COVID-19. These changes include increased heart rate and oxygen consumption, decreased lung capacity, and decreased function of the immune system.

I am both Hispanic and white, and the Hispanic and Latino communities have seen more cases and higher death rates from COVID-19. According to the CDC, Hispanics or Latinos have died at 2.3 times the rate of their white counterparts. I didn’t want to be another statistic. As a mother, I wanted to do everything I could to protect myself, my baby, and my family.

Consulting with My Doctor

When deciding whether or not to get the vaccine, I first talked to my obstetrician at Penn Medicine. My doctor told me that although there was still limited data, other pregnant physicians and front-line workers did get the COVID-19 vaccine and they were ok. My doctor advised that there is evidence that pregnant women who get COVID-19 may be at an increased risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes as well as adverse outcomes for the growing baby. My doctor said to look at my lifestyle and comfort level to determine my risk assessment. She also said she would be supportive of whatever decision I made.

Analyzing New Information

In mid-January, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf added pregnant women to Phase 1a of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, allowing me the opportunity to make an appointment if I decided to get the vaccine. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine stress that COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should not be withheld from pregnant individuals who choose to receive the vaccine.

After weighing the risks, I decided to get the vaccine. I received my first dose of Moderna in my second trimester at 17 weeks pregnant and I had no symptoms other than soreness at the injection site. I received my second dose four weeks later at 21 weeks pregnant and felt the same arm soreness along with headaches and some minor fatigue the day after I received my second dose. However, the next day I felt great and the baby has been kicking along as he usually does.

Doctors are now finding that babies born to mothers who received the vaccine have COVID-19 antibodies and studies are also finding that antibodies are passed through a mother’s breastmilk. It’s discoveries like these that help me know I made the right decision to protect myself and my baby.

Prenatal Care

Since there are many prenatal appointments during pregnancy, Penn Medicine now allows a mix of in-person and telemedicine visits for OB check-ins. They want to see you in person for your initial scan and your first few visits, but after that, if you are low risk, every other appointment can be virtual if you choose. In offering a virtual hybrid schedule for prenatal visits, Penn Medicine is trying to minimize the risk of pregnant people getting Covid-19.

Regardless of the type of visit, essential prenatal care has not changed. For example, just like at a standard prenatal visit, my blood pressure is checked at every visit. The only difference is, instead of a nurse taking my blood pressure, for my telemedicine visits, I just use an at-home blood pressure monitor, which I was quickly able to purchase from Amazon for about $20.

My Go-To Pregnancy-tracking App

My go-to pregnancy-tracking app is Ovia Health. I used it for my first two pregnancies, and I loved it. I think it’s the best app out there for guidance on your pregnancy journey. In fact, I used it even before Independence Blue Cross started providing it as an offering to our clients.

The app has a very user-friendly interface. It’s interactive and fun to use and is even customizable if you know your baby’s gender. One of the most useful features is the food safety and medication look-up. For example, you can type in “Advil®” and it will give you the risk level and alternative recommendations. You can also look up any food, from blue cheese to brie to sushi. This feature is especially helpful for first-time mothers who are trying to navigate what is safe to eat while pregnant.

Screenshot from Ovia: Monique Muldoon's Timeline

A screenshot from the Ovia Health app.

You also get access to a symptom look-up tool, weekly videos, and a community forum for women to ask questions. Ovia Health personalizes the experience for women with daily updates and information as well as weekly articles on the growth of my baby. One of my favorite app features is the size comparison, which shows me what size my baby is compared to fruits and vegetables, or even “weird-but-cute animals”. It’s something to look forward to each week.

The app is not just focused on your baby but also focuses on the mother’s health as well. There are mental health assessments and a daily self-care checklist.

My husband has the app on his phone too, and one feature he really likes is that he can see what I can see, and we can follow our baby’s progress together.

Making the Most of Your Health Insurance

If you connect the Ovia Health app to your health insurance, you can get a free breast pump and other helpful resources. For example, I’ve been getting articles specific to being pregnant during a pandemic as well as returning to work after maternity leave. I’m also connected to an Ovia health coach. I can text  my health coach at any time. In fact, I used the health coaching resource to get nutrition information and to help me obtain resources to decide whether or not I wanted to get the Covid-19 vaccine while pregnant.

I am grateful for the health coaching team and resources provided by Ovia Health as well as my doctors at Penn Medicine who have helped me navigate pregnancy during the pandemic. I am also thankful for my health, my support system, and my daughters, who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their little brother this July!

Monique Muldoon

About Monique Muldoon

Monique Muldoon is an Account Executive on the National Sales and Account Management team at Independence Blue Cross. She is responsible for the management and retention of Key Accounts serving as the account lead and primary point of contact for clients within her book of business. Monique completed her Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Villanova University and obtained her undergraduate degree from Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. Monique manages a book of business consisting of 10 clients representing ~25,000+ members.