COVID-19 and preterm birth: What do we know?

November 9, 2020

More research is needed on how COVID-19 affects pregnant people. But pregnant people have a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant people. Some research also shows that pregnant people with COVID-19 may be at higher risk for pregnancy problems, like preterm birth.


Preterm birth is a birth that happens before 37 weeks of
pregnancy. Preterm babies may not be fully developed at birth. They may have
more health problems and may need to stay in the hospital longer than babies
born later. Some may have breathing problems because their lungs are not fully

COVID-19 increase the risk of preterm birth?

Each year, about 1 in 10 babies (10 percent) in the United States
is preterm. This rate may be higher in pregnant people with COVID-19:

  • In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study of 445
    births in 600 pregnant people with COVID-19, 12.6 percent were preterm births. In
    this study, preterm births were three times more likely in pregnant people with
    COVID-19 who had symptoms compared to pregnant people with COVID-19 who had no
  • In another CDC study of 3,912 babies born to pregnant people with
    COVID-19, 12.9 percent were preterm births.

While additional research is needed, it is important for pregnant
people to know that the risk for severe outcomes due to COVID-19 is higher when
compared to non-pregnant people. Therefore, be sure to  protect yourself from COVID-19 and other
infections that can increase the risk of having a preterm birth. These
infections include the flu (also called influenza). Pregnant people who get the
flu are more likely to have preterm labor and preterm birth. When you follow
COVID-19 safety and social distancing recommendations, you are also protecting
yourself from the flu.

But remember, getting the flu shot during pregnancy is the best way to protect you
and your baby from the flu!

yourself from COVID-19

Practice COVID-19 safety and social distancing recommendations:

  • Wash
    your hands often. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t
    use soap and water, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Limit
    contact with other people as much as possible.
  • If you
    need to go out or interact with others:
    • Wear a
      cloth face cover or a facemask over your nose and mouth.
    • Keep at
      least 6 feet away from others.
    • Stay
      away from people who are not wearing a mask.
    • Avoid
      touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Every
    day, clean and disinfect surfaces you frequently touch. 
  • Avoid
    activities that make safety measures and social distancing difficult. For
    example, try ordering takeout food instead of going to a restaurant. Try
    staying connected to friends and family in creative ways, like with video
    calls, instead of going to a party. Some pregnant people even have had
    baby showers using video conferencing instead of in person during the

If you have COVID-19 when giving birth, can your baby get

Babies can become infected with COVID-19 during
childbirth or by being exposed to someone with the virus after birth. But
infections due to COVID-19 are not common in newborns born to people with

Research shows that only a small
number of babies (about 2 percent to 5 percent) born to people
with COVID-19 near the time of delivery test positive for the virus
in the days after birth. It may be hard to tell if newborns infected with
COVID-19 got the virus before birth, during birth or after birth from close
contact with an infected person.

Can preterm babies be at higher risk for serious illness if they get

Yes. Some data shows that babies who may be more likely to have
serious illness from COVID-19 include:

  • Babies age 1 and under
  • Preterm babies
  • Babies who have other medical conditions, like a lung condition or
    heart disease

How can you protect your preterm baby from COVID-19 in the NICU?

Some preterm babies need to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care
Unit (NICU) for special care. Learn how
to protect your baby from COVID-19 in the NICU

Learn more about COVID-19
and pregnancy