Lockdowns Prevented Thousands of Premature Births Worldwide
A new research study has found that lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic may have prevented tens of thousands of premature births around the world, primarily in high-income countries. The findings come from a multidisciplinary study of 56 million births from 26 countries between January 2015 and July 2020.
The study, which was part of the International Perinatal Outcomes in the Pandemic (iPOP) Study, involved 167 global partners and was co-led by the University of Manitoba and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute. The research showed that during the first four months of Covid-19 lockdowns, there was a 3-4 per cent relative reduction in preterm births – defined as birth before 37 weeks gestation – in high-income countries, including Australia. This amounted to an estimated 50,000 fewer babies being born prematurely during this period.
Experts believe the drop could be linked to pregnant women being exposed to fewer non-Covid-19 infections and better air quality, due to reduced traffic during lockdown. However, the shift in some countries could also be because of delayed or reduced access to quality healthcare during the early stages of the pandemic or other factors related to Covid-19 lockdowns.
The researchers noted that understanding the underlying pathways linking lockdown with the reduction in preterm births could have implications for clinical practice and policy. Potential modifiable mechanisms underlying their findings that should be investigated as possible contributors to preterm birth include the possible effects of non-COVID-19 infections, air pollution, maternal stress and economic security, and access to health care.
The study also found that transmission of COVID-19 from mother to baby was rare and generally mild when it occurred. However, almost half of all babies did not receive any breast milk, with only a quarter being breastfed and the majority of mothers and babies having no skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth.
It was encouraging to see family-centred care practices become more prevalent as the pandemic progressed, even when the mother was ill. The researchers strongly encourage health services to continue implementing family-centred care practices during the future stages of this pandemic to ensure neonates and mothers receive the best possible health benefits.
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