By Tracey Neal of RNZ
A new study showing pregnant women are more at risk from Covid-19 is a reminder of the need for expert health care, a New Zealand women's health expert says.
The study published today in the British Medical Journal showed pregnant women were at a higher risk from the effects of Covid-19 and were more likely to give birth early.
They were less likely to have symptoms, but more likely to need intensive care.
More than 11,000 women were part of the study from an international team of researchers.
The research project based at the University of Birmingham said maternal risk factors associated with severe Covid-19 increased with age, high body mass index, chronic high blood pressure, and pre-existing diabetes.
Professor Bev Lawton said that was no real surprise, but served as a reminder of the need for women to access regular care, particularly at a time when there was greater reluctance to head out of the house.
"Women should be interacting as early in their pregnancy as possible with their midwife or their GP.
"People have been perhaps a bit more wary about engaging and coming out of the home but we really do need for women to see their GP or midwife."
The New Zealand College of Midwives said the research was helpful at this time.
Midwifery advisor Dr Lesley Dixon said it provided a better understanding of how Covid-19 manifested in pregnant women.
"That is very useful for midwives and other health professionals working in this area.
"Taking information gathered from 77 studies from a variety of countries around the world, the study provides up to date evidence on the frequency, symptoms and outcomes for pregnant women who returned a positive Covid-19 test (or who were symptomatic)."
The study showed pregnant women with Covid-19 were also more likely to experience pre-term birth and their newborns were more likely to be admitted to a neonatal unit.
However, stillbirth and newborn death rates were low.
Dr Dixon said it was important to note that while the study found that pregnant women with Covid-19 (or those who had recently given birth), were more likely to be admitted to intensive care (in comparison with non-pregnant women of reproductive age), overall the incidence of needing this level of care was extremely low.
"Being pregnant does not necessarily increase the risk of contracting Covid-19, but this study tells us that if you do contract the virus when pregnant then the risk of becoming unwell is greater."
Professor Lawton, who was the founder and director of Te Tātai Hauora o Hine (the Centre for Women's Health Research) at Victoria University of Wellington, said it was fortunate that New Zealand had very low rates of Covid-19.
Neither she nor colleagues she had spoken to on the subject were aware of any incidents of Covid-19 in pregnant women in New Zealand.
"That's been another really good positive of the elimination strategy."
Professor Lawton said it was also important that pregnant women were vaccinated against standard flu.
"Flu can be terrible in pregnancy - you can get quite sick.
"The World Health Organisation recommends populations to vaccinate against influenza and top of the list is pregnant women - before older people."
The research project was partially funded by the World Health Organisation.