Changes in preterm birth and stillbirth during COVID-19 lockdowns in 26 countries

Clara Calvert, Meredith Brockway, Helga Zoega, Jessica E. Miller, Jasper V. Been, Adeladza Kofi Amegah, Solmaz Eradat Oskoui, Karen Hunter, Rachel Mulholland, Rachael Wood, Aziz Sheikh, Sarah J Stock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Preterm birth (PTB) is the leading cause of infant mortality worldwide. Changes in PTB rates, ranging from -90% to +30%, were reported in many countries following early COVID-19 pandemic response measures ('lockdowns'). It is unclear whether this variation reflects real differences in lockdown impacts, or perhaps differences in stillbirth rates and/or study designs. Here we present interrupted time series and meta-analyses using harmonized data from 52 million births in 26 countries, 18 of which had representative population-based data, with overall PTB rates ranging from 6% to 12% and stillbirth ranging from 2.5 to 10.5 per 1,000 births. We show small reductions in PTB in the first (odds ratio 0.96, 95% confidence interval 0.95-0.98, P value <0.0001), second (0.96, 0.92-0.99, 0.03) and third (0.97, 0.94-1.00, 0.09) months of lockdown, but not in the fourth month of lockdown (0.99, 0.96-1.01, 0.34), although there were some between-country differences after the first month. For high-income countries in this study, we did not observe an association between lockdown and stillbirths in the second (1.00, 0.88-1.14, 0.98), third (0.99, 0.88-1.12, 0.89) and fourth (1.01, 0.87-1.18, 0.86) months of lockdown, although we have imprecise estimates due to stillbirths being a relatively rare event. We did, however, find evidence of increased risk of stillbirth in the first month of lockdown in high-income countries (1.14, 1.02-1.29, 0.02) and, in Brazil, we found evidence for an association between lockdown and stillbirth in the second (1.09, 1.03-1.15, 0.002), third (1.10, 1.03-1.17, 0.003) and fourth (1.12, 1.05-1.19, <0.001) months of lockdown. With an estimated 14.8 million PTB annually worldwide, the modest reductions observed during early pandemic lockdowns translate into large numbers of PTB averted globally and warrant further research into causal pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-544
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number4
Early online date27 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pandemics/prevention & control
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth/epidemiology
  • Stillbirth/epidemiology


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