| 17 April 2024, Wednesday |

Stillbirth and prematurity risks may increase with Covid-19

Having coronavirus around the time of birth may increase the chance of stillbirths and premature births, a large UK study suggests, although the overall risks remain low.

Scientists say while most pregnancies are not affected, their findings should encourage pregnant women to receive the vaccine as soon as they are eligible.

The research, led by the National Maternity and Perinatal Audit, looked at data involving more than 340,000 women who gave birth in England between the end of May 2020 and January 2021. The study appears in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The majority are offered vaccines when they are rolled out to their age group.

All women were tested for the virus when they were admitted for births – whether they had symptoms or not.

The study found:
  • 3,527 had positive tests
  • Of those, 30 had stillbirths (deaths occurring after 24 weeks of pregnancy)
  • Scientists calculate 8.5 per 1,000 women who had a positive test went on to experience a stillbirth
  • This compares to 3.4 per 1,000 women who had a negative test
  • 12% of women who had a positive coronavirus test gave birth prematurely (before 37 weeks)
  • This compares to 5.8% of women who had negative tests
  • It was more common for women who had Covid-19 at the time of birth to be younger and from a black, Asian or other minority ethnic background

Researchers say a higher risk of stillbirth and prematurity, as well as a greater chance of having a Caesarean section, remained even once factors such as the mother’s age, ethnicity, socio-economic background and common health conditions were taken into account.

Babies born to women who tested positive were more likely to need special neonatal intensive care because they were born early and needed more support – rather than being infected with coronavirus itself.