Doctors baffled at fewer babies being born prematurely during COVID restrictions
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TORONTO, August 11, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Since the COVID-19 outbreak, a new trend among pregnant women has developed, puzzling doctors worldwide and causing a group of Canadian scientists to investigate its cause.
On August 8, CTV reported that a group of Canadian scientists will investigate the recent decrease in babies being born prematurely. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, many Canadian hospitals have noted a significant decrease in the number of mothers giving birth to premature babies, resulting in more babies being born healthy and at full term, between 39 and 40 weeks.
Every year, on average, 3,100 babies in Canada are born prematurely, before the 37th week. Premature babies are at a higher risk of cerebral palsy, vision loss and hearing impairments; they often require immediate and extensive care after birth. Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of infant mortality worldwide, not counting abortion.
During the first months of the pandemic, Calgary reported a 37 percent drop in the number of premature births, Edmonton noted a 20 percent decline, Ottawa reported a drop of approximately 30 percent, and Halifax reported an incredible 80 percent drop.
Dr. Jon Dorling, a neonatologist at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, told CTV News, “It is definitely surprising. We would have expected that the increased stress from the pandemic (…) would have made it worse rather than better.”
This trend is also developing outside of Canada, with Denmark reporting a decrease of nearly 90 percent, Ireland noting a 70 percent decrease, and the United States and Australia reporting lower numbers than usual.
A group of researchers working with the University of Manitoba, hoping to learn the reason for the decrease of premature births, is launching an international study. The group plans to survey 19 countries and enlist dozens of doctors to research birthing statistics.
Merilee Brockway and Meghan Azad, researchers at the University of Manitoba, explained that their team is examining potential links to COVID-19. For example, reduced air pollution and reduced exposure to other infections may have led to better health for the mothers. They also believe that, because of the lockdown, many expectant mothers stayed home and may have experienced less physical stress.
“We are hoping to have the high-level analysis, to essentially answer this question and describe preterm birth rates internationally done by late fall,” Brockway told CTV News.
In 2019, 39 babies were born prematurely in Calgary between March and mid-June. However, this year that number dropped to 20.
Dr. Belal Alshaikh, a neonatologist with South Calgary Campus and Foothills Hospital, expressed surprise at the low number of babies born prematurely.
“Initially,” he said, “we thought it's just the usual variation we see during the year. However, the number continued to be low. In April, and then in May, when we start realizing it's not our usual to have this lower number during this period of the year.”
Dr. Dorling said he suspects the sudden lifestyle change due to COVID-19 may be the cause, since “people have not been trying to cram as much into their daily lives as they would normally, so perhaps just a slower work and life pattern might have helped.”
Another study, led by Dr. Prakesh Shah with Mount Sinai Hospital, will examine all babies born in Ontario between March and June and then compare those births to cases from the past 10 to 15 years.
“If this provides an opportunity that these are the reasons (for premature birth) … it would be a great public health importance,” Shah said.
There’s hope that the Canadian research team’s discoveries will reveal the causes behind premature births, leading to more babies born healthy and at term.