Researchers at the University of California have found that women who are infected with COVID at any point during pregnancy have a 60% increased risk of giving birth ‘very preterm’—which is less than 32 weeks into pregnancy. A full term pregnancy is about 40 weeks.
Their findings were based on data that was collected from over 240,000 births that took place between July 2020 and January 2021. During that time frame, 9000 women had tested positive for COVID during their pregnancy.
They divided the births into four different categories which were based on the length of gestation—‘very preterm’ birth occurs before 32 weeks of pregnancy, ‘preterm’ birth happens between 32 and 37 weeks, ‘early term’ birth takes place between 37 and 38 weeks, and ‘term’ or ‘full term’ birth is between 39 and 44 weeks.
Their results showed that pregnant people who had reported COVID infection were 60% more likely to have a 'very preterm' birth than those who were COVID-free during pregnancy. The chances of having a 'preterm' birth also increased by 40% and there was a 10% increased risk for 'early term' birth.
Furthermore, the study showed that Asian women were 240% more likely to give birth very preterm, while American Indian women were 170% more likely to experience a premature birth.
Pregnant people who have other conditions, like diabetes and obesity, in combination with COVID had an even greater risk.
This is the largest study in the world that has been examining this link.
As of now researchers still do not know the exact reason that the virus causes premature births however they’re encouraging all expecting mothers to get vaccinated. Co-author of the study, Deborah Karasek said:
Future research can explore those different mechanisms through which COVID infection would impact preterm birth.
I think vaccination is a very important tool that we have to reduce COVID infection and severity of infection that could also mitigate preterm birth.
Premature births can adversely affect a child as they could have a weak immune system and undeveloped organs. This could leave them vulnerable to severe illnesses and can cause breathing, heart, or brain problems.