Experts Warn Pregnant Women: 'Seek Help if You Need it'by Laura Driver
A new set of studies are indicating that, in some countries, the number of babies that have been stillborn has increased since the COVID-19 outbreak began in March 2020.
Researchers are suggesting that lockdown restrictions may have meant reduced access to doctors and midwives for many pregnant mothers. This may have given rise to undiagnosed prenatal complications, sometimes leading to stillbirth.
The declaration comes after a review of findings from a number of recent international reports of countries including India and Nepal, as well as England and Scotland.
In August, global health journal The Lancet published a study with data from more than 20,000 expectant mothers across nine hospitals in Nepal. Doctors there noted a 50% increase in stillbirths: from 14 per 1,000 births before the pandemic to 21 per 1,000 by the end of May. The same trend has been observed in some UK hospitals, too.
At St George’s, a University of London hospital, healthcare workers discovered their rate of stillbirths had quadrupled between October 2019 and June 2020, from 2.38 to 9.31 per 1,000 births.
Scotland shows similar signs of the trend, according to a Nature analysis of its birth records.
Experts worldwide agree that the increase in stillbirths is not likely to have been caused by coronavirus itself, but more likely as a result of the pandemic affecting pregnant women's access to routine antenatal care.
Pregnant women might have been unable to travel to health facilities because of the lockdown, shielding, or cancelled antenatal appointments. Others might have avoided hospitals altogether for fear of contracting the virus.
It's important to remember that, as far as the UK is concerned, the evidence comes from just one hospital in England and stillbirth is still very rare. The advice to pregnant mothers is to always speak to your midwife if you notice anything unusual or different to the norm, however small it may seem. If something doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to speak to a healthcare professional. The sooner a problem is looked into, the better.
Professor Alex Heazell, Director of Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre at the University of Manchester, said:
'There are seasonal variations in stillbirth rates every year, so although certain hospitals reporting a rise may sound worrying, we need a much bigger picture before we can understand the national or global impact of COVID-19 – and unfortunately it’s too early to see that yet. Our research suggests the virus doesn’t usually cross the placenta, and doesn’t appear to be directly related to stillbirth. It’s so important that expectant parents keep going to their antenatal appointments and seek help for worrying symptoms like reduced baby movements.'
Tommy’s midwifery manager, Kate Marsh, agrees:
'Antenatal care is vital for the wellbeing of mums and babies but in the pandemic, many parents don’t know who they could ask for help, or didn't want to ‘bother’ the NHS.
'Although services are changing, they are still running, so mums-to-be must attend their appointments and seek help for any worrying symptoms. Midwives, GPs and health visitors are all still available. It’s really important that expectant parents know they still can, and should, seek help if they need it.'