KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pregnant women with COVID-19 are at increased risk for severe illness and are more likely to deliver babies prematurely, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Kim Fortner, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, treats some of the most severe pregnant patients.
Fortner said the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus means more pregnant women are testing positive for the coronavirus and ending up in intensive care units.
"We don't usually have pregnant women or postpartum women in ICUs," Fortner said. "Right now, we do. We have more than we even had at the peak when the pandemic was the worst."
Fortner said pregnancy is a stressor to the body and pregnant women don't handle additional physiological stresses well. That's why she said pregnant women are three times more likely to need help breathing when diagnosed with COVID.
"Once we hit critical illness, it does often lead to needing to deliver," Fortner said. "We hit the point where I need to help get the uterus out of the way to help her lungs breathe easier."
"Throughout the pandemic, we've seen an increased rate of preterm delivery," Fortner said.
Both the CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology recommend pregnant women get the vaccine. Both cite research that said all three coronavirus vaccines approved in the United States are safe and effective for pregnant women, in all parts of their pregnancy.
Fortner said the unvaccinated population is at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19, something she has difficulty watching in her patients.
"To watch a family go through the challenge of something that should have been a nice, normal, happy moment of delivery," Fortner said. "Instead, it's complicated by prematurity and a preterm birth and also for a mom that's critically ill and fighting for her life."