The coronavirus lockdown has led to an alarming rise in stillbirths across the world as fear of the disease keeps women away from hospitals.
According to Nature.com:
The largest study to report a rise in the stillbirth rate, based on data from more than 20,000 women who gave birth in 9 hospitals across Nepal, was published in The Lancet Global Health on 10 August. It reported that stillbirths increased from 14 per 1,000 births before the country went into lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus in late March, to 21 per 1,000 births by the end of May — a rise of 50%. The sharpest rise was observed during the first four weeks of the lockdown, under which people were allowed to leave their homes only to buy food and receive essential care.
What we’ve done is cause an unintended spike in stillbirth while trying to protect [pregnant women] from COVID-19,” says Jane Warland, a specialist in midwifery at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.
While the largest study was conducted in Nepal, the trend of lockdowns leading to stillbirths holds true in Western countries with more modern healthcare systems:
Birth data from a large hospital in London showed a similar trend. In July, Asma Khalil, an obstetrician at St George’s, University of London, and her colleagues reported a nearly fourfold increase in the incidence of stillbirths at St George’s Hospital, from 2.38 per 1,000 births between October 2019 and the end of January this year, to 9.31 per 1,000 births between February and mid-June.
Khalil calls this the collateral damage of the pandemic. She says that during lockdown, pregnant women might have developed complications that were not diagnosed, and might have hesitated about coming to hospital and therefore been seen by doctors only when a complication was advanced, when less could be done.
The pandemic has changed the nature of obstetric care delivery, with many doctors conducting virtual check-ups instead of in office visits with expectant moms.
The WHO recommends at least eight in-person check-ups during a pregnancy to allow healthcare providers to monitor for dangerous complications like preeclampsia, a potentially fatal condition that can be indicated by changes in blood pressure, protein in urine, swelling and other symptoms.