A new medical study has found that pregnancy complications and maternal deaths in childbirth rose during the first 14 months of the COVID-19 pandemic as patients missed their in-person doctors’ appointments.
Published Friday in JAMA Network Open, the study of 1.6 million pregnant patients in 463 hospitals found the overall number of live births decreased by 5.2% between March 2020 and April 2021 from the previous 14 months.
Over the same period, the study’s seven researchers found a “small but significant increase” in hypertension, hemorrhaging and women dying in childbirth.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were increased odds of maternal death during delivery hospitalization, cardiovascular disorders, and obstetric hemorrhage,” the study said.
Lead researcher Rose Molina, a gynecologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School, said the use of telehealth and virtual care may have led pregnant women to space out their prenatal visits over longer periods.
“That may have allowed some pregnancy complications to go undetected or unmanaged for longer periods of time during the pandemic than prior to the pandemic,” Dr. Molina said in an email.
Although the study did not examine the causes of maternal deaths, she said “heightened societal stress” may have contributed to the rise in hypertension issues.
“Health systems need to better prepare for the next pandemic,” Dr. Molina said.
According to the study, workforce shortages and supply chain delays also contributed to the “alarming” spike in pregnancy complications.
Some doctors who examined the study on Friday agreed with its findings.
“I imagine much of the potential complications occurred due to failed check-ins with obstetricians to evaluate for fetal issues early on,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious disease specialist, said it remains “unclear” whether COVID-19 infections directly caused any of the complications.
“COVID-19 had cascading impacts on all aspects of health care and it is not surprising that it impacted pregnancy outcomes,” said Dr. Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.