COVID Pregnancies More Likely to Lead to Stillbirths

A Scottish study released in January reports that pregnant women who contract COVID carry a higher risk of severe illness, and are more likely to lose their foetuses. Rates of stillbirths and infant deaths are shockingly high in unvaccinated pregnant people.

Multiple Scottish experts collaborated in the study, which tracked 144,546 pregnancies over the period December 2020 – October 2021. The study did not account for confounding factors like maternal age and pre-existing conditions. But disparities between results among vaccinated and unvaccinated pregnancies are so clear that the researchers believe it’s unlikely confounding factors would change their conclusions.

The Scottish study joins earlier reports given by Dutch and Belgian scientists, which came to similar conclusions.

Pregnant people are already at a higher risk of developing severe COVID complications. Belgian gynaecologist Dr Isabelle Dehaene revealed, “women already have a smaller lung volume during pregnancy, so they also run a higher risk of needing invasive ventilation.” She also noted there had been several cases of early caesareans on COVID-positive mothers, where doctors had been unable to provide proper ventilation.

Preterm births and emergency early c-sections have been common among COVID pregnancies.

The Scottish study further reports that unvaccinated pregnant people are four times more likely to be hospitalised with COVID than their vaccinated peers. Risks of admission to the ICU, ventilation and death are significantly higher.

Pregnancies in women with COVID are far more likely to result in preterm births, stillbirths and preeclampsia. Rates of perinatal mortality and preterm births were shockingly high for mothers who contracted COVID within 28 days of their birth dates.

The term ‘perinatal mortality’ refers to stillbirths and infant deaths less than a week after birth. For the entire Scottish population, the perinatal mortality rate was 5.6 deaths per 1000 births in the study period.

This rate climbed to 8 per 1000 births among mothers who had COVID at any point during their pregnancies. And it soared to 22.6 per 1000 births for those who had COVID within 28 days of giving births – four times the national average.

In every perinatal birth among COVID-infected mothers the study observed, the mother was unvaccinated. “Quite strikingly, no baby deaths occurred in women who had SARS-CoV-2 and were vaccinated,” reported first author Dr Sarah Stock.

Scientists from both the earlier Dutch and Belgian studies commented that COVID causes significant damage to the placenta in affected pregnant women. “There is no other infectious disease that causes so many deaths in unborn babies in such a short period of time,” said Dutch scientist Sam Schoenmakers.

Significant damage to the placenta – currently known as COVID Placentitis – has been reported in COVID-affected pregnancies.

The Scottish study also reported COVID led to higher rates of preterm births. For mothers who had COVID within 28 days of giving birth, there was a 16.6% preterm birth rate. This is more than double the Scottish average of 7.9%.

Unfortunately, despite the significant risks of contracting COVID while pregnant, vaccination rates among expectant mothers remain low worldwide. This is despite current research showing mRNA vaccines pose no significant risk to pregnant people.

The key takeaway for Dr Aziz Sheikh of the Scottish study: “the best way to protect mother and baby is vaccination at the earliest opportunity.”

Cover photo by Dexswaggerboy on Unsplash.

Follow Maddie’s journalism journey on Twitter.

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