Pregnant women who catch Covid are over 50 per cent more likely to suffer complications such as premature birth, according to a major new study.
Scientists have called on expectant mothers to get vaccinated after the findings indicated the risks from the virus are worse than originally assumed.
Based on the medical records of 2,100 pregnant women across 18 countries, the study also found that newborns of infected women were nearly three times more at risk of severe medical complications that could require admission to a neonatal intensive care unit.
Women who caught the virus but didn’t experience symptoms appeared to be at no added risk.
Around eight per cent of births in the UK are preterm, affecting approximately 60,000 babies a year, higher than many countries in Europe.
There is no evidence that being vaccinated against Covid poses a risk to pregnancy, and many scientists have said there is no plausible way that a jab could cause harm.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advises women who are pregnant to get either the Pfizer or Moderna jabs.
However, officials believe that unfounded fears among pregnant women or those planning to become so are bolstering vaccine hesitancy.
Professor Stephen Kennedy, who co-led the study at the University of Oxford, said: “We now know that the risks to mothers and babies are greater than we assumed at the start of the pandemic and that known health measures when implemented must include pregnant women.
“The information should help families, as the need to do all one can to avoid becoming infected is now clear.
“It also strengthens the case for offering vaccination to pregnant women.”
The new study is unique in its thoroughness because each woman affected by Covid-19 was compared to two non-infected pregnant women giving birth at the same time at the same hospital.
Professor Aris Papageorghiou, who also worked on the research, said: “Fortunately, there were very few maternal deaths.
“Nevertheless, the risk of dying during pregnancy and in the postnatal period was 22 times higher in women with Covid-19 than in the non-infected pregnant women.”
The study also highlighted that close to 10 per cent of newborns from mothers that tested positive for the virus also tested positive for the virus during the first few postnatal days.
Professor José Villar, who also worked on the study, said that breastfeeding did not appear to be related to the increase.
But he added: “Delivery by Caesarean section, however, may be associated with an increased risk of having an infected newborn.”