A recent Dutch study, published in the renowned medical journal The Lancet, shows a large decline in the number of premature births following the introduction of infection control measures.
– This is a study that confirms previous reports from Denmark and Ireland, among others, that the number of premature babies was greatly reduced when strict covid-19 measures were introduced in March, says assistant health director Espen Rostrup Nakstad.
The Norwegian Directorate of Health’s man believes the study is important because one in ten children in the world is born prematurely, and because premature birth is the most important cause of death among children.
The Dutch study has used data from close to 1.6 million newborns in the Netherlands, including 56,720 babies born after strict infection control measures were introduced in March 2020.
– In the following months, a significant decrease in the number of premature births was found at gestational week 32 to 36, Nakstad points out.
“Our study confirms findings from previous preliminary studies that indicate that significant reductions in premature births occurred after the national introduction of covid-19 measures. International cooperation is needed to gather evidence from around the world to further substantiate these findings and to study the underlying mechanisms. Such an effort can help to uncover new opportunities for the prevention of premature birth with major effects on public health “, write the Dutch researchers.
However, researchers cannot give a good explanation for the decline in premature births.
Nakstad says that in many research environments it has been discussed which effects of coronary occlusion can explain that fewer children are born prematurely.
– Many point to improved air quality, reduction in infectious diseases and less stress during pregnancy as possible explanations. A calmer lifestyle with less stress is also highlighted as a possible explanation for the fact that the incidence of acute myocardial infarctions has been lower in many countries over the past six months, including Norway, says Nakstad and elaborates:
– We also see that the total mortality in 2020 has been clearly reduced in countries that have had a good effect of their infection control measures. This may be due to a combination of a calmer lifestyle with less stress in everyday life, as well as fewer infectious diseases as a result of infection control measures. We look forward to more studies in the future that will shed light on these important health effects of the pandemic, says Nakstad.
Not necessarily positive
Folkeinstituttet (FHI) is currently receiving Norwegian register data on childbirths for a study they hope will provide further answers.
– This Dutch study shows a large decrease in premature births, but the data base does not make it possible to say anything about the reason for this, says Deputy Siri Eldevik Håberg at FHI’s Center for Outstanding Research and elaborates:
– It may be due to something positive – that less stress, air pollution and fewer infections during the pandemic has led to fewer premature births – but there may also be signs of something that is not good, such as that the pandemic has led to fewer necessary initiations of births and cesarean section or increased incidence of fetal death. We do not yet know this, Håberg points out.
She believes that the Norwegian study will shed light on the causal connection.
– We have very good data in Norway, Håberg points out.
The FHI center also participates in the international giant study IPOP, to which great expectations are attached.
– It will be able to provide important knowledge about premature births as such, but also in a pandemic situation, says Håberg.