COVID lockdowns may benefit expectant mothers

Friday 30 July 2021

A newly released study by Mater Research and The University of Queensland shows the number of expectant mothers admitted to hospital for a planned early birth dropped dramatically during the early stages of the first COVID-lockdown in 2020.

The analysis of births at Brisbane’s Mater Mothers’ Hospital between March and April 2020 showed hospital admissions for preterm caesarean and induced births halved compared to the previous seven years.

Mothers are usually admitted for a planned early caesarean or induced birth to ensure the safety of the mother and baby if a medical issue arises.

Mater Research lead investigator Professor Sailesh Kumar, who is also a Senior Specialist in Maternal Fetal Medicine at Mater Mothers’ Hospital, said some behaviour associated with self-isolation may have driven the lower numbers.

“More time at home may have led to reduced work and social-related stress, improved sleep quality and diet, which in turn perhaps led to an overall improvement of pregnancy outcomes,” Professor Kumar said.

“Importantly our study also showed that the number of stillbirths or newborns needing emergency care did not increase during this period.”

The World Health Organization defines pre-term births as birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.  About 26,000 pre-term births are recorded in Australia each year, with an estimated 15,000 admitted as planned caesarean or induction births, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics.

The researchers studied de-identified obstetric and neonatal data from the electronic healthcare records at the Mater Mothers’ hospital in Brisbane.

Lead author of the study from The University of Queensland, Dr Linda Gallo said the study provides a valuable insight into factors that affect maternal health.

“Understanding the behaviours that might influence maternal health will hopefully help care providers advise mothers about how they can best look after themselves to lower the risk of birth complications,” Dr Gallo said.

“The study was only possible because we had access to data from the Mother Mothers’ Hospital during the same time period over eight years. We are now expanding this study by working with our interstate and international colleagues to examine how lockdowns in different states and countries have influenced preterm births.

“Our expanded study will look at these factors and hopefully the data of a broader cross-section of experiences will give us a better idea of the triggers for pre-term birth given the current pandemic.”

The research has been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Mater Research’s bench to bedside philosophy sees us working across Mater Health’s hospitals and health services, The University of Queensland, and the world-class Translational Research Institute (TRI).

Mater provides expert maternity care to mothers and babies across Brisbane and throughout regional Queensland. More than 10 000 babies are born each year at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals in South Brisbane.