COVID-19 not linked to preterm births or stillbirths, research shows

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Researchers found no increases in preterm births or stillbirths during the first year of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in a new study of more than 2.4 million births in Ontario is published in Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Infection, inflammation, stress, medical or pregnancy-induced disorders, genetic predisposition, and environmental factors can contribute to stillbirth and preterm birth, although in many instances the cause remains unknown, the researchers said.

Some reports emerged during the pandemic that rates of preterm births dropped in countries such as the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United States, while the United Kingdom, Italy, India and others reported increases in stillbirths and some variability in preterm birth rates. However, most studies were small.

For the current study, researchers analyzed Ontario births over an 18-year period and compared trends in the pre-pandemic period of 2002 to 2019 with the pandemic period of January to December 2020. The researchers said they found no unusual changes in rates of preterm birth or stillbirth during the pandemic.

Pandemic-related measures and compliance with them could affect preterm birth rates in different settings. Thus, the researchers looked at birth outcomes in the public health units where positivity rates for SARS-CoV-2 were higher, including Toronto, Peel Region, York Region, and Ottawa, as well as comparing urban and rural births and those in neighborhoods with different average income levels.

International studies are now underway to help understand the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy and childbirth around the globe.

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