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Mothers With More Severe COVID-19 May Be More Likely to Have a Preterm Birth

Researchers have discovered that mothers who are severely infected with COVID-19 may be more likely to experience preterm birth.

Researchers studied the rate of preterm birth in about 1,000 pregnant women who tested positive for COVID-19. The study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, discovered that the more severe the infection, the greater the risk of medically-induced preterm birth due to concerns like preeclampsia. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of lives around the world. As scientists continue to study it, new long-term effects are discovered. Pregnant women who have had severe cases of COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, should be aware of the potential complications. 

Preterm Birth

Preterm birth is “the leading cause of perinatal morbidity and mortality worldwide.” A birth that occurs before 37 weeks gestation is defined as preterm birth. Two-thirds of preterm births happen because of spontaneous onset of preterm labor. The other third is caused by medical conditions that affect the mother or baby and necessitate delivery. 

Preterm births can be very serious, as a developing baby goes through important growth in the final weeks of gestation. The brain, lungs, and liver are some of the organs that need the final weeks of pregnancy to fully develop. Babies who are born early may have breathing problems, feeding difficulties, developmental delays, and hearing and vision problems. Preterm births can also have an emotional and financial impact on families.

Preterm birth is defined as any birth that occurs before 37 weeks. Babies that are born prematurely may have breathing problems, feeding difficulties, developmental delays, and other problems. The final weeks of development are very important for a baby and preterm birth can lead to less time for important organs to fully develop. Image courtesy of Womanly Magazine.


Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that involves high blood pressure and damage to other organs like the liver and kidneys. Typically, preeclampsia starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy. 

When a woman has preeclampsia, the most effective treatment is to deliver the baby. Otherwise, there can be serious complications for both mother and baby. 

Some symptoms of preeclampsia include severe headaches, changes in vision, abdominal pain, and shortness of breath. Sometimes preeclampsia can develop without any symptoms. High blood pressure can develop either slowly or suddenly. Pregnant women should always monitor their blood pressure. If blood pressure exceeds 140/90, they should immediately consult their doctor.

Preeclampsia occurs when pregnant mothers have high blood pressure, usually greater than 140/90. Pregnant women with preeclampsia are usually advised to induce labor immediately to protect both mother and baby. It is important for pregnant women to monitor their blood pressure and be alert for any signs of preeclampsia. Image courtesy of Boston University.

Experts believe that preeclampsia begins in the placenta, when the blood vessels don’t develop or function properly. Women with a history of preeclampsia, chronic hypertension, or who are carrying multiple babies may be at a higher risk for preeclampsia.  

Details of the Study

This study was conducted by researchers at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health’s Perinatology Research Branch in Detroit. They also collaborated with the Fetal Medicine Foundation of London.

1,000 pregnant women who tested positive for COVID were studied. In women who tested positive for COVID and had a preterm birth, researchers found that premature birth was largely due to medically-induced birth “brought about by the concerns for the health of the mother, such as preeclampsia.”

The study found that the more severe the COVID infection, the greater the risk of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is responsible for 76,000 maternal deaths and more than 500,000 infant deaths every year. According to researchers, doctors appear to be “medically inducing early delivery to save the lives of mothers infected with COVID-19 in the cohort studied.” 

Researchers say that there is a relationship between the severity of COVID infection and the risk of developing preeclampsia and having a preterm birth. Because of their findings, researchers say that the possibility of COVID-19 causing preeclampsia should be considered. Image courtesy of Kent Reporter

Dr. Roberto Romero, chief of the Perinatology Research Branch and professor of Molecular Obstetrics and Genetics at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, said that the principal finding of the study was the dose-response relationship between the severity of COVID infection and the risk of development of preeclampsia and preterm birth. According to Dr. Romero, mothers with severe COVID-19 infections had a five-fold greater risk of preeclampsia than asymptomatic patients. Because of these findings, researchers say that the possibility of COVID-19 causing preeclampsia must be considered. 


The research conducted in this study could be important for treating pregnant mothers who have tested positive for COVID-19. Based on the severity of their infection, they may be at risk for a preterm birth and preeclampsia, and it is important for doctors to be aware of this so they can keep an eye on any signs of complications. 

Preterm birth is the leading cause of perinatal morbidity and mortality worldwide, so any research into its causes and risk factors is important for protecting pregnant mothers. 

Pregnant mothers who have had COVID-19 with severe symptoms should communicate with their doctors and monitor their blood pressure for signs of preeclampsia or other complications that can lead to preterm births. 


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