Bringing the impact of COVID-19 in pregnancy out of the shadows

Visualisation of the Covid-19 virus

Bringing the impact of COVID-19 in pregnancy out of the shadows

Raising awareness and influencing policy through evidence generation, dissemination and collaboration

The challenge

The global pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), or ‘COVID-19’ has had far-reaching impacts. Maternal and fetal outcomes have been negatively impacted, with increases in maternal deaths and stillbirths, and significant disparities between high and low resource settings. Pregnant women have a higher chance than non-pregnant women of being admitted to intensive care, and risk factors for severe disease include non-white ethnicity, high body mass index, older age, pre-existing medical co-morbidities (including diabetes and hypertension). Other important factors affecting outcomes for pregnant women are the prevalent variant and the introduction of vaccines.

Public health and clinical guidance issued within countries and by major international bodies was the subject of ongoing, rapid change, and there were differences in the recommendations, adding to confusion. Little was known about the impacts of COVID-19 on pregnancy outcomes and how to best structure and deliver maternity care to mitigate the impacts of the virus.

Our work

Members of the Pregnancy Loss Research Group have been key contributors to a number of national and international studies and resources in relation to COVID-19 and maternity practice.

Our impact

The above work has added to the knowledge base surrounding COVID-19 in pregnancy, nationally and internationally.

Professor O’Donoghue made several media appearances, communicating key messages from the work, including on:

In 2021, Professor O’Donoghue and Dr Brendan Fitzgerald delivered a virtual Masterclass on COVID-19 in Pregnancy for the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI).


Policy impacts

Professor O’Donoghue was lead author for the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (IOG) of the RCPI and the National Women and Infant’s Health Programme (NWIHP), Health Service Executive (HSE) clinical guidance on COVID-19 and maternity services. This guidance document for maternity services outlines considerations for care for pregnant women and their infants during the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides advice for maternity units around the provision of safe care to women and infants with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Since its initial publication, it has been updated four times and is published on many national websites, being widely endorsed by professional colleges and health services bodies.

Work on COVID-19 Placentitis led to several statements. In light of emerging findings, in April 2021, the IOG made a statement on SARS-CoV-2 placentitis. Acknowledging that stillbirth still appeared to be a rare complication of maternal COVID-19 infection, it highlighted the importance of stillbirth investigation, and pathologists, obstetricians, scientists and Coroners working together–and with national and international colleagues–to better understand the implications of the four cases of stillbirth identified nationally in Ireland’s 3rd wave of COVID-19 infection.

The IOG and NWIHP issued guidance in January 2022 on Stillbirth, Surveillance of Fetal Wellbeing and SARS-CoV-2 Infection. This highlighted the risk of stillbirth with maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection, arising from both maternal complications from severe COVID-19 illness and placental damage from SARS-CoV-2 placentitis, and the mitigation of risk by COVID-19 vaccination.


Research priorities around SARS-CoV-2 Placentitis include how to identify any variant of concern which may constitute a risk for placentitis and how to instigate an urgent national/global obstetric response to it. There needs to be a concerted effort to address vaccine hesitancy in pregnant people and healthcare staff. Obstetricians and Pathologists should also monitor the clinical course, treatments, and outcomes of pregnancies following SARS-CoV-2 infection so that women are provided with tailored, evidence based, advice for current and future pregnancy.

Professor Keelin O’Donoghue, Lead, Pregnancy Loss Research Group


For more information

Please contact Professor Keelin O’Donoghue:

Pregnancy Loss Research Group

Pregnancy Loss Research Group, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University College Cork, Fifth Floor, Cork University Maternity Hospital, Wilton, Cork, T12 YE02, Ireland,