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CDC: Risk of Stillbirth Is Higher Among Pregnant People With COVID-19

Pregnant woman getting an ultrasound.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that the risk of stillbirth is higher among pregnant people with COVID-19 than pregnant people without COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 during pregnancy also increases the risk of preterm birth and pregnancy complications.
  • There have been no safety concerns associated with COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy, and experts say the benefit of getting vaccinated outweighs the risks.

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that pregnant individuals with COVID-19 had a higher risk of stillbirth compared to those without COVID-19.

Researchers assessed the data from March 2020 to September 2021 where 8,154 stillbirths were documented. They found that the risk of stillbirth was significantly higher when the Delta variant became the predominant strain in the U.S. than in the pre-Delta period.

From March 2020 to June 2021, 0.98% of COVID-19-affected deliveries resulted in stillbirth, compared to 0.64% of deliveries without COVID-19. Meanwhile, from July to September 2021, the rate of stillbirth was 2.70% and 0.63% for deliveries with and without COVID-19, respectively.

Stillbirth is a rare outcome overall—the pre-pandemic stillbirth rate was 0.59%—but the study demonstrates how crucial it is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible by implementing safety precautions and vaccination.

How Does COVID-19 Affect the Fetus?

Previous studies of pregnancies complicated by COVID-19 infections identified placental histopathologic abnormalities, or abnormalities in the tissues of the placenta, Heather Lipkind, MD, high-risk obstetrician at Yale Medicine and associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, told Verywell.

It suggests that hypoperfusion or reduced blood flow, virus invasion, and inflammation in the placenta might occur with maternal COVID-19 infection, which explains the association between COVID-19 and stillbirth to an extent, she adds.

In 2020, a team of Yale scientists studied the case of a pregnant person with symptomatic COVID-19 in their second trimester of pregnancy. They analyzed the placenta for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 and found that the virus can invade the placenta of pregnant individuals. The study findings suggest that COVID-19 plays a role in placental inflammation, which causes early-onset preeclampsia and results in worsening maternal condition.

“Other obstetric medical conditions associated with COVID-19 infection, including the need for intensive care admission, may also contribute to stillbirth,” Lipkind said.

What Are Other Health Risks of COVID-19 in Pregnant People?

Aside from the increased risk of stillbirth, getting COVID-19 during pregnancy comes with other health risks. According to the CDC, pregnant people with COVID-19 are more likely to develop severe COVID-19 disease.

“Health risks of COVID-19 in pregnant people include a two-fold risk of admission into intensive care and a 70% increased risk of death,” Lipkind said.

The disease also affects pregnancy outcomes and increases the risk of complications.

“In addition to an increased risk of stillbirth, compared with pregnant women without COVID-19, pregnant women with COVID-19 have an increased risk of preterm birth and of having babies that need neonatal intensive care,” Ruth Faden, PhD, professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Verywell. 

These adverse outcomes further emphasize the need to prevent COVID-19 by employing various preventive strategies such as wearing masks, avoiding unnecessary social contact, and getting vaccinated.

What This Means For You

If you are pregnant, you are recommended to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect yourself and your baby. Data on the safety and effectiveness of vaccination during pregnancy is growing, and experts say it outweighs any known or potential risks. To find a vaccination site near you, you can visit vaccines.gov.

Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe During Pregnancy?

According to the CDC, early data did not find any safety concerns or increased risk of miscarriage for pregnant individuals who got vaccinated. The vaccines do not cause COVID-19 infection, and they might even build antibodies that may extend protection to the baby.

“There is growing evidence regarding the benefits of maternal COVID-19 vaccination, including the detection of antibodies in cord blood,” Lipkind said. “Data on vaccination thus far has been very reassuring in pregnancy and studies have reported no association between COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy and adverse maternal or birth outcomes.”

National organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) recommend that all pregnant individuals get vaccinated against COVID-19 to reduce the risk of severe complications from the disease. They encourage their members to strongly recommend COVID-19 vaccination to their patients.

“No safety concerns have thus far been identified in over 170,000 pregnant women in the U.S. who have been vaccinated, primarily with mRNA vaccines,” Faden said. “Given the real threat that COVID-19 poses to pregnant women and their babies, the benefits of vaccination clearly outweigh the risks.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. DeSisto CL, Wallace B, Simeone RM, et al. Risk for Stillbirth Among Women With and Without COVID-19 at Delivery Hospitalization — United States, March 2020–September 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70:1640–1645. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7047e1

  2. Di Girolamo R, Khalil A, Alameddine S, et al. Placental histopathology after SARS-CoV-2 infection in pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol MFM. 2021 Nov;3(6):100468. doi: 10.1016/j.ajogmf.2021.100468.

  3. Hosier H, Farhadian SF, Morotti RA, et al. SARS–CoV-2 infection of the placenta. J Clin Invest. 2020;130(9):4947-4953. doi:10.1172/JCI139569

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnant and Recently Pregnant People.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Vaccines While Pregnant or Breastfeeding.

  6. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG and SMFM Recommend COVID-19 Vaccination for Pregnant Individuals.