Scientists have not made much progress in recent years to stem the alarming rise in preterm births in developed nations. Then, along came COVID…
While hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units in some areas of the world struggled to keep pace with coronavirus patients, one area of the hospital remained conspicuously quiet.
NICU units in Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United States, and Australia have experienced shockingly reduced demand in recent months since the beginning of lockdowns from the novel coronavirus. (1)
Two studies so far have quantified the plunge in preterm births, defined as the birth of an infant at fewer than 37 weeks gestational age. Both studies are in the queue for publication. More studies of the heartening phenomenon are on the way.
The first is an Irish study that found that about three-quarters fewer premature babies have been born so far in 2020 compared with the previous year.
In the second study, researchers at the Statens Serum Institut found a shocking 90% plunge in premature births during a month-long coronavirus lockdown in Denmark.
In the United States, the drop was less dramatic but still compelling. Dr. Stephen Patrick, a neonatologist at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, estimates there were about 20 percent fewer NICU babies at his hospital than usual in March 2020. Some American doctors share similar stories, although others say their NICUs were as busy as ever. (2)
Very Low Birthweight Births Plunge the Most
The most pronounced decline in preterm births occurred in very low birth weight preemies. These are infants weighing 3.3 pounds or less at birth.
Nearly 9 out of every 1000 babies born in Ireland between January 2001 and April 2019 were very premature.
For the first four months of 2020, however, the rate massively declined to just 2 babies out of every 1000 according to research conducted by University Maternity Hospital Limerick.
A similar pattern was noted by the Danish researchers.
What is Causing Fewer Preterm Births During COVID?
Researchers so far are grasping at straws to explain the huge improvement in birth outcomes since the start of the COVID pandemic.
The Irish authors wrote:
Our observations, if reflected in other countries that adopted COVID-19-prompted lockdown measures, would redefine the antecedents that trigger the yet poorly understood pathways leading to preterm births. (3)
Commonsense Reasons for the Trend
However, several common-sense theories quickly come to mind as probable reasons for the preterm birth plunge.
First, while COVID lockdowns were clearly stressful, pregnant women who stayed home likely experienced a net reduction in stress. The elimination of exhausting work commutes and a significantly higher amount of rest combine for this beneficial effect.
Second, home cooking surged during the lockdowns due to the closures of restaurants and cafes. (4) The potential result is that pregnant women at home were eating more balanced, nutritionally dense meals.
Third, those of us who have worked in an office know that, in many cases, working from home provides an ideal environment for improving the diet. The removal of the donuts/candy in the conference room and the coffee pot in the break room allows pregnant women to more easily avoid the lure of sugar, junk food, and caffeine to the huge benefit of their unborn babies.
Finally, a very likely reason for the extreme reduction in preterm births is less poking and prodding by their doctors. The temporary ban on non-essential medical procedures and an increase in the number of people hesitant to go to doctors’ offices probably contributed to fewer women getting induced to deliver early. In addition, more women may have opted for the reduced risks of birth centers or home deliveries, forgoing infection overloaded hospitals entirely.
Other Potential Factors for Fewer Premature Births
Air pollution has been linked to premature births in the past. Thus, some researchers speculate that the markedly improved air quality during lockdowns from fewer cars on the road, airplanes in the air, and factories producing products could have improved birth outcomes. (5)
Others have suggested that being at home exposed pregnant women to fewer infections of all kinds, not just the coronavirus. Influenza, for example, can raise the odds of premature birth. (6)
Whatever the combination of reasons ultimately proves to be, the results are compelling and worthy of in-depth study. To this end, the Danish and Irish researchers are building an international group of collaborators to study the positive effect of COVID lockdowns on preterm births.
(1, 3) Rate of very premature births falls by as much as 90% during coronavirus lockdowns in some countries
(2, 5-6) During Coronavirus Lockdowns, Some Doctors Wondered: Where Are the Preemies?
(4) Premier Foods Sales Surge as Home Cooking Surges During Lockdowns
I think that’s a huge reason— one that should be seen as foundational. I birthed 3 children in the early seventies; no issues whatsoever. Women were strongly told to use NO drugs whatsoever, no coffee, not even aspirin. Vaccines were NEVER EVER given. Autism was a colossal rarity. Today, the medical ghouls cannot cram enough poisons into pregnant women. When women my age are gone, that information will disappear, as in George Orwell’s 1984. People have been raised in “medicine” cabinets.
Less vaccinations for pregnant moms definitely contributed to the reduction in SIDS, and probably contributed to premature births too.
Mary Kate Pendergast
very, very interesting. My oldest daughter was delivered by emergency c-section at 34 weeks. She weighed 3 lbs. I was working 2 jobs (!), day shifts and night shifts. My diet was horrible. My stress level was incredibly high, due to the poor job I did taking care of myself & baby, and many other events in our family life at the time. So this article makes sense to me, but a 90% drop in preemie births? I can’t wait til the rest of the info comes out!
Well said, Children Are Our fts. And Isadora, I know the pressure they put on moms when the due date is passed. I was pressured three times during my second son’s 14-day-late arrival to have a stress test. I was actually accused over the phone of risking my baby’s health! Well! Since I had been erroneously given a C-section with my first (which risked my baby’s health!), I was not going to let them near me or the baby with tests. He was moving and I trusted God the whole time. I have since had six more children at HOME! We don’t know when the baby is finished developing, but God does, and He created a mechanism for the body to start labor when it is time. Two of my daughters-in-law went into labor very early and the babies were normal size (around 6-7 lbs.), which proves we can calculate that due date very incorrectly! I think working women don’t get nearly enough rest and the lockdown probably gave them plenty more rest so that babies are more comfortable to stay in! The lack of donuts is probably an important point, too! I have been pressured into eating “treats” that I know better than to eat by being in a social setting with women who are looking for an excuse to “share” a batch of their favorite recipe for calorie-laden, nutrient-absent desserts!
That’s great that you were able to stick to your guns, Jamie. I think a lot of women, when accused of endangering their baby’s health, will agree to nearly anything. A very insightful book by Jennifer block called Pushed is a very insightful read for anyone who is interested. I greatly recommend it for anyone who is pregnant or is planning to become pregnant. It really exposes the medical interventionist, trigger happy doctors we see these days. It seems like most of it could be prevented if the patients were just educated. You can find copies for pretty cheap on eBay.
It will be interesting to see how much, if any, difference there is in this between no lockdown states and countries like S. Dakota and Sweden versus major lockdown states and countries like New York and Great Britain.
Sarah Pope MGA
I agree! I want to know more! Hopefully, this data will become available in the coming months. I do find this trend incredibly interesting and heartening! Smart OBs and midwives will take note and consider the implications for their own practices.
Similarly, an emergency room physician said SIDS deaths (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or “crib death”) have fallen to zero when they’re used to seeing several a week. He hypothesized that it was because babies and newborns weren’t being given the usual panoply of vaccinations because of the lockdown. It’ll be interesting to see if autism is also lowered for this cohort of children.
That’s fascinating, Flossie! My husband mentioned that to me the other day… As far as him being curious what the SIDS numbers were now that people weren’t bringing in their kids to get their regular vaccines.
One of the main reasons all four of my kids have been born at home! I was not interested in being pressured to start labor early. I just had my fourth baby five months ago and he was three weeks late. I ended up taking a dose of castor oil to get him going because he did not want to come! But that was an instance of him actually being late, not someone trying to induce me at the 38-39 week mark.
I would have to believe the main contributing factor is the fact that women weren’t going in to get induced. Doctors are so trigger happy when it comes to induction these days, and a lot of women don’t know any better.
Sarah Pope MGA
Yes, I think this would be a big contributing factor. I was pressured to be induced with my third child and I just refused. Many women don’t realize they can say no. My baby was born at 40 weeks perfectly healthy at 7 pounds 9 ounces.
Children are our Gifts
Absolutely, I agree. So often, we “live and learn” the hard way due to ignorance,
not realizing at the time that we always have;
1. The right to say no to what we don’t want and what doesn’t feel right.
2. What may be “convenient” in the short term (a doctor doesn’t want a birth to interrupt his planned time away so schedules birth times of his patients for his “convenience”, example, on a Friday), not realizing the long term implications of not allowing births to proceed at their own pace. Remember, in the Bible – KJV – Ecclesiastes 3:2, it says that there is……….
“A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;”
3. Man’s intervention has always been the cause of all the Earth’s problems. There is a divine order to things and it is always better to be “in tune” and “in the flow” with Nature’s rhythm. *We need to return child birthing to caring, loving, nurturing women – where it belongs.
4. We need to respect ourselves again as women and take back the responsibility of loving and nurturing our children and not turning over our moral obligation and responsibility to someone else (i.e., “the medical authority”) out of fear.
We have so much to learn. Fortunately, there are many who are waking up. God bless us as we return to what actually blesses us and grows us emotionally, physically and spiritually.