Studies suggest low birthweight cases drop to near zero during pandemic

Obstetricians in Europe think there’s been an unexpected benefit to the coronavirus lockdown — but it hasn’t shown up in Indy.

For doctors who deal with preemies, it’s an eye-catching finding: two separate research teams, in Ireland and Denmark, say they saw the number of low birthweight babies at their hospitals drop almost to zero. The New York Times reports similar findings at an Australian hospital, and noticeable though less dramatic drops at hospitals in Canada and the Netherlands.

But I-U Health’s Riley Hospital for Children says its neonatal intensive care unit is admitting about the same number of patients as usual. NICU medical director Beatrice Stefanescu says the unit currently has 59 babies in its care, slightly above the usual numbers in the mid-50s.

The Irish and Danish studies are awaiting peer review. If the correlation reflects a true causal connection, Stefanescu says the lack of a similar effect in the U-S could reflect overall health differences. Rates of obesity, diabetes and smoking are all higher in the U-S, and all are linked to low birth weights. And Stefanescu says higher stress levels in the U-S could be a factor as well.

Ireland and Denmark began imposing lockdowns in March, about two weeks before Indiana did.

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