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COVID-19 in pregnancy not linked to still birth or baby death, new study suggests

Written by on 23 February 2021

COVID-19 in pregnancy is not linked to still birth or baby death but could be linked to premature birth, new research suggests.

The study looked at 4,004 pregnant women from the UK and US who had suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

All the women gave birth between January and August 2020.

As well as no deaths amongst babies in the study, the proportion of babies born to mothers with COVID-19 who subsequently tested positive was low at around 2% in the UK and 1.8% in the US.

There was also no increase in the risk of still birth and low birth weight.

However, there was a link between suspected or confirmed COVID-19 with a higher risk of premature birth in both the UK and US data.

Professor Christoph Lees, senior author of the study, said the reason for this was “not entirely clear”.

In the UK, 12% of women with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 had a pre-term delivery – 60% higher than the national average of 7.5%.

Meanwhile in the US, 15.7% of women had a pre-term delivery – 57% higher than the US national average.

According to the study team, this could be partly associated with doctors deciding to deliver early, due to concerns about the effect of COVID-19 infection on mother and baby.

Despite a higher number of premature births, the rate of deaths among the women, most of whom had no pre-existing health conditions, was similar to the expected death rates seen amongst adults with COVID-19. This suggests pregnant women are not at higher risk than non-pregnant women.

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council which helped fund the research, said: “The study’s findings, that there is no increased risk of still birth and early neonatal death in women who contracted COVID-19 while pregnant, are reassuring. However, the study highlights a need more research to determine if, or how, COVID-19 affects maternal outcomes or premature birth.”

Dr Ed Mullins, co-author from Imperial department of metabolism, reproduction and digestion, also emphasised “a prioritisation of vaccination of women who are pregnant or who plan to become pregnant” for reducing pre-term births.

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