Obstetrics and Gynaecology - Research Publications

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    Increase in preterm stillbirths and reduction in iatrogenic preterm births for fetal compromise: a multi-centre cohort study of COVID-19 lockdown effects in Melbourne, Australia
    Hui, L ; Marzan, MB ; Potenza, S ; Rolnik, D ; Pritchard, N ; Said, J ; Palmer, K ; Whitehead, C ; Sheehan, P ; Ford, J ; Mol, B ; Walker, S ( 2021-10-05)



    The COVID-19 pandemic has been associated with a worsening of perinatal outcomes in many settings due to the combined impacts of maternal COVID-19 disease, disruptions to maternity care, and overloaded health systems. In 2020, Melbourne endured a unique natural experiment where strict lockdown conditions were accompanied by very low COVID-19 case numbers and the maintenance of health service capacity. The aim of this study was to compare stillbirth and preterm birth rates in women who were exposed or unexposed to lockdown restrictions during pregnancy.


    Retrospective multi-centre cohort study of perinatal outcomes before and during COVID-19 lockdown


    Birth outcomes from all 12 public maternity hospitals in metropolitan Melbourne

    Inclusion criteria

    Singleton births without congenital anomalies from 24 weeks’ gestation. The lockdown-exposed cohort were those women for whom weeks 20- 40 of gestation would have occurred during the lockdown period of 23 March 2020 to 14 March 2021. The control cohort comprised all pregnancies in the corresponding periods one and two years prior to the exposed cohort.

    Main outcome measures

    Odds of stillbirth, preterm birth (PTB), birth weight < 3 rd centile, and iatrogenic PTB for fetal compromise, adjusting for multiple covariates.


    There were 24,017 births in the exposed and 50,017 births in the control group. There was a significantly higher risk of preterm, but not term, stillbirth in the exposed group compared with the control group (0.26% vs 0.18%, aOR 1.49, 95%CI 1.08 to 2.05, P = 0.015). There was also a significant reduction in preterm birth < 37 weeks (5.93% vs 6.23%, aOR 0.93, 95%CI 0.87 to 0.99, P=0.03), largely mediated by a reduction in iatrogenic PTB for live births (3.01% vs 3.27%, aOR 0.89, 95%CI 0.81 to 0.98, P = 0.015), including iatrogenic PTB for suspected fetal compromise (1.25% vs 1.51%, aOR 0.79, 95%CI 0.69 to 0.91, P= 0.001). There was no significant difference in the spontaneous PTB rate between the exposed and control groups (2.69% vs 2.82%, aOR 0.94, 95%CI 0.86 to 0.1.03, P=0.25).


    Lockdown restrictions in a high-income setting, in the absence of high rates of COVID-19 disease, were associated with a significant increase in preterm stillbirths, and a significant reduction in iatrogenic PTB for suspected fetal compromise.

    Trial registration

    This study was registered as an observational study with the Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12620000878976).