For the media

Having COVID-19 while pregnant could lead to stillbirth

By The Health News Team | March 29, 2022
Woman holding pregnant belly

Pregnant women are no more likely to contract COVID-19 than anyone else. But when they do, they have a greater chance of complications, including placental damage that can lead to stillbirth.

A recent study published in Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, a national medical journal, confirmed that although rare, the coronavirus can invade and damage the placenta, which provides oxygen and nutrition to an unborn baby in the womb. The extensive damage it causes can lead to stillbirth, which is the death or loss of a baby before or during delivery.

Researchers from 12 countries, including the U.S., analyzed placental and autopsy tissue from 64 stillbirths and four newborns who died shortly after birth. The cases all involved unvaccinated women who had COVID-19 during pregnancy.

“It’s rare, but the evidence suggests that women who contract the disease during their pregnancies are at higher risk for fetal injury,” says Dr. Amy French, a board-certified OBGYN affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “Unfortunately, that can lead to stillbirth.”

The placenta is an organ that forms in the uterus during pregnancy and connects to the umbilical cord. It’s the sole source of oxygen and nutrients to help unborn babies grow. Based on the study, the virus destroys the placental tissue and blocks necessary blood flow and oxygen — which in turn, leads to suffocation of the fetus.

Rates of stillbirth rose in pandemic
Dr. French says that in general, stillbirth is not a common pregnancy outcome. It only affects about 1 in 160 births. In the U.S., about 24,000 babies are stillborn every year. However, the rate of stillbirths has risen during the pandemic.

In November 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that among pregnant women infected with COVID-19 during their pregnancies, about 1 in 80 deliveries was a stillbirth — twice as many as those not infected with the disease.

Dr. French strongly advises women to talk to their doctor about getting vaccinated, especially if pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

“When compared to other women, pregnant women are categorized as high risk for severe COVID-19,” she says. “That means they are at increased risk for ICU admission or life-threatening conditions. One has to weigh potential harm from the vaccine against the possibility of contracting COVID.”

COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women
According to Dr. French, multiple studies have shown that the vaccines are safe. Additionally, babies are being born with antibodies if mom received the vaccine, protecting the infants from COVID-19 as well.

She recommends getting the vaccine and booster, ideally before conception, so there’s no gap in protection. COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC are recommended for pregnant and lactating people as well as those trying or intending to become pregnant.

Dr. French also advises mothers-to-be to take extra precautions by continuing to wear a mask in public and to socialize with family and friends who are vaccinated to reduce risk of infection.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Amy French about pregnancy for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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