In a sign that the pandemic may have spared pregnant women and their newborns, a new Canadian study suggests there was no increase in preterm births or stillbirths during the first year of the pandemic.
Some studies found preterm birth rates in countries such as the Netherlands, Ireland and the United States fell during the pandemic, while there were increases in stillbirths and variability in preterm birth rates in the United Kingdom, Italy, India and other nations.
However, most of those studies were small, the researchers noted. To get a clearer picture, the team analyzed births in the province of Ontario from 2002 to 2019, and during the pandemic (January to December 2020).
“We found no unusual changes in rates of preterm birth or stillbirth during the pandemic, which is reassuring,” said study author Dr. Prakesh Shah, a pediatrician-in-chief at Sinai Health in Toronto.
Because pandemic-related safety measures and compliance with them could affect preterm birth rates in different settings, Shah and colleagues examined birth outcomes in public health units where infection rates were higher, and also compared urban and rural births and those in neighborhoods with different average income levels.
Their findings were published Aug. 3 in CMAJ (the Canadian Medical Association Journal).
“In some areas and in certain people, the restrictions could be beneficial, and in other settings or individuals, restrictions could have the opposite effect,” Shah said in a journal news release.
International studies are now being conducted to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy and childbirth worldwide.
Infection, inflammation, stress, medical or pregnancy-induced disorders, genetics and environmental factors can contribute to stillbirth and preterm birth, but the cause is unknown in many cases.
The March of Dimes has more on stillbirth.
SOURCE: CMAJ, news release, Aug. 3, 2021