Pregnant women are not at greater risk of suffering severe coronavirus symptoms, a study suggests.
However, the majority of expectant mothers who did fall severely ill with COVID-19 between 1 March and 14 April were in the later stages of pregnancy, or the third trimester, according to the data.
This means heavily pregnant women should continue to practise social distancing as much as possible, researchers warn.
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The research was led by the University of Oxford and Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists – but has not yet been peer reviewed.
As Britain headed for lockdown in March, pregnant women were told to stay indoors as far as they could for 12 weeks.
But the NHS said they were only included on the list of vulnerable people “as a precaution”, because “viruses like flu” can be more of a risk during pregnancy.
On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated that pregnant women should still “avoid any contact with others” as he laid out a roadmap out of lockdown in the House of Commons.
But the study of 427 pregnant women showed that only a “very small number” required critical care after contracting coronavirus. Five of the women who took part in the study have since died, researchers added.
Expectant mothers from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were more likely to be admitted to hospital with the virus, in line with recent findings on the UK population as a whole.
Those who were older, overweight, obese or suffering from pre-existing health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes were also more likely to need hospital treatment, the study said.
Outcomes for babies were also better than first anticipated. One in five newborns whose mothers tested positive were premature or transferred to a neonatal unit.
But only one in 20 babies born to mothers with the virus had it too, which suggests the transmission from mother to baby is low.
Of those who took part in the study, around 60% have been discharged.
Study lead Marian Knight, professor of maternal and child population health at the University of Oxford, said: “A very small number of pregnant women do become severely ill with COVID-19 and sadly some women have died. Our thoughts must remain with their families.
“Most pregnant women who were admitted to hospital were more than six months pregnant, which emphasises the importance of continued social distancing measures in the later stages of pregnancy.
“Following the current guidance about careful social distancing will help prevent infection.”
Chief executive of the Royal Collge of Midwives, Gill Walton, urged pregnant women to carry on attending antenatal appointments.
It comes after the death of pregnant nurse Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, who worked at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, last month.
She died on 12 April, but her baby, also named Mary, was safely delivered by emergency caesarean.
The 28-year-old had been working at the hospital well into her third trimester, Channel 4 News reported. This is the period when the study claims women are most vulnerable to the disease.