This was a recent and surprising bit of news. The rate of infants born prematurely was dramatically reduced in the early months of the pandemic.
While most of the world was in a quarantine state, the numbers of premature births actually went down, in some cases even by 90 %. Various hospitals in the United States, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia reported the same decrease. This was a dramatic change that had not been seen before.
A full term pregnancy is usually 40-42 weeks. Babies who are born before 37 weeks or earlier are considered preterm. The last few weeks of pregnancy are important for lung maturation and brain growth. Every extra day makes a difference.
I’d worried that the stress of the sudden quarantines would lead to more premature labors. But something else changed. Why were there less premature births?
Maybe it helped that everyone had to limit their activity. Pregnant women did not have to commute and work long hours. Maybe with less traffic in driving and flying, the improved air quality benefitted pregnant women. Being in quarantine also meant less visits to clinics and thus, less interventions. That afforded pregnant mothers more time to grow their babies at home. I’d wager it was a combination of all these and more.
A few months of quarantine definitely will not make up for decades of poor nutrition and unsafe housing. The problems of living in a racist culture have not been erased immediately. During this pandemic time, there has been rampant fear, violence and a great deal of uncertainty. That is what usually causes more premature births. It’s still a painful fact that women of color have higher rates of premature births.
I’m interested to see which populations have had the most dramatic change in premature births. Just as importantly, what will help keep the prematurity rates low? What’s surprising is how quickly the change, in this case a positive one, was noticed.
We know that the environment can drastically affect a pregnancy. Can we figure out what has helped these pregnancies last longer… then can we keep that going? We could create a healthier approach to pregnancy and mothers… but without the virus threat. Amidst the stress and fear, we have to build up the changes that affect more caring and more health.