A small study of 16 pregnant women who tested positive for Covid-19 found evidence of injury to the placenta, the organ that acts as the gut, kidneys, liver and lungs for a fetus during pregnancy.
Pathological exams completed directly following birth found evidence of insufficient blood flow from the mother to the fetus and blood clots in the placenta.
That might interfere with the placenta’s role in delivering oxygen and nutrients from the mother’s blood stream to the growing baby and removing waste products from the baby’s blood.
“Not to paint a scary picture, but these findings worry me,” said Northwestern Medicine obstetrician Dr. Emily Miller, coauthor of the study published Friday in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology, in a statement.
Despite following only 16 women, the authors said the study is the largest examination of the health of placentas in women who tested positive for Covid-19 done to date.
“I don’t want to draw sweeping conclusions from a small study, but this preliminary glimpse into how Covid-19 might cause changes in the placenta carries some pretty significant implications for the health of a pregnancy,” said Miller, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“We must discuss whether we should change how we monitor pregnant women right now,” Miller said, which she said might be done by testing the oxygen delivery of the placenta during the pregnancy and following the growth of babies via ultrasounds.