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Institute of Evolutionary Medicine (IEM) Neonatal health

Temporal and other determinants of neonatal health in Lausanne, 1905-1925

Maternité de Lausanne, salle de bain des bébés, anonyme, 1920

Project Summary

Major historic events have been shown to impact public health. Past pandemics and wars, associated with marked increases in mortality and morbidity, can also indirectly alter a population's health through the exposure to a stressful environment.

Using the data-rich records from the Maternity Hospital of Lausanne, we aim at transcribing around 15,000 deliveries that occurred between 1905 and 1925. Our goal is to investigate how neonatal health evolved throughout this time period. More specifically, we will assess whether birthweight was impacted by the influenza pandemic of 1918/1919 and by the food shortages that were concomitant with World War I.

As only a limited number of studies investigated the effect of influenza exposure on pregnancy outcomes, and because their conclusions diverge, this project will be unique both in terms of sample size and data quality: potential covariates such as gestational age, maternal age and height, or socioeconomic status (individual and area-based) will be adjusted for in the statistical models.

Collaborators from various backgrounds are involved in the project: historians, epidemiologists, statisticians, economists and health-care providers.


  • Spatial clusters within the city of Lausanne : We are particularly interested in spatially modelling neonatal health, with the hope to identify hot- and cold-spots for birthweight in the city of Lausanne and its surroundings, and to investigate if they are associated with lower or higher socioeconomic areas of the time.
  • Direct in utero influenza exposure during the 1918/1919 pandemic: Maternal influenza infection has been recorded in the Maternity Hospital archives: we will analyse whether it impacted birthweight or the probability of preterm birth and stillbirth. The emphasis will be put on analysing whether the trimester of infection or the severity of symptoms developed by the mother lead to different outcomes.
  • The heat wave 1911 and its impact on neonatal health
  • Syphilis infection and neonatal outcomes
  • Developping a statistical method to correct for selection bias
  • ​​​​​​Relationship between maternal waist circumference and birthweight
  • The relationship between maternal and neonatal anthropometrics as a proxy for obstetrical interventions during delivery

Project members


This project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Weiterführende Informationen



Dr. Marek Brabec (Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, CZ)
Prof. Bernard Harris (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, GB)
Prof. Irene Hösli (University Hospital Basel, CH)
Dr. Stéphane Joost (EPFL Lausanne, CH)
Prof. Eric Schneider (LSE London, GB)
Prof. Ulrich Woitek (University of Zurich, CH)