Professor Lesley Margaret Elizabeth McCowan



Professor Lesley McCowan is a sub-specialist in Maternal Fetal Medicine who was Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology from 2009 to 2020. In 2011 she received a New Year’s Honour (Officer of New Zealand Order of Merit) and in 2015 received a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to health.

She chaired the National Women’s Hospital perinatal mortality review process for many years  but at the end of 2020 retired from clinical work. She was a founding member of the National Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee which reports on perinatal mortality nationally. She chairs the national  Growth Assessment Program working group, hosted by ACC and is a member of the National Maternity Monitoring Group. Her academic role is largely based at Counties Manukau Health.

Research | Current

Main current research projects

My research interests have spanned many topics in perinatal medicine, maternal medicine and child health over a period of 30 years. I have a continuing major multipronged research interest in fetal growth, stillbirth and maternal metabolic health. I have published more than 260 peer reviewed research papers.

In 2004 Professor Robyn North and I initiated the SCOPE study (Screening for pregnancy Endpoints) which aimed to identify early in pregnancy, nulliparous women, who would later develop preeclampsia, preterm birth or have a growth restricted baby (  The SCOPE study has established one of the best pregnancy databases in the world and a unique high quality pregnancy biobank containing maternal, paternal and baby specimens. These high quality resources provide ongoing opportunities for research collaborations both within New Zealand and internationally. A follow up study of Auckland SCOPE mothers and children, 6 years post birth, has just been completed.

Another key research interest is the epidemiology of stillbirth, in particular the role of maternal sleep practices. Her team was the first to report that women who went to sleep in the supine position in the third trimester had an approximate three-fold increase in risk of stillbirth. I lead an international collaboration and individual participant metaanalysis of studies that have investigated the relationship between maternal sleep position and stillbirth and confirmed the original findings. Her team has developed and implemented a successful public awareness campaign "sleep on side while baby is inside" for women in the third trimester of pregnancy. 

Another recent research project is the HUMBA (Healthy Mums and Babies) trial carried out in pregnant women living with obesity from South Auckland. Participants were randomised to dietary education provided by Community Health Workers accompanied by motivational texting or routine care, and to  probiotic or placebo capsules. Those who received the dietary education intervention had a two kilogram reduction in total pregnancy weight gain. The HUMBA trial has followed up the mothers and babies until 12 months postpartum and also has a pregnancy bio-bank.

Other Current Research Projects

Gestational Diabetes Mellitus Study of Detection Thresholds (the GEMS study). 2015 -

Investigators: Caroline Crowther, Janet Rowan Lesley McCowan, Chris McKinlay, Julie Brown, Richard Edlin.

Teaching | Current

I am involved in both undergraduate and postgraduate  medical teaching as well as intermittent midwifery and obstetric specialist education.

Postgraduate supervision

I have supervised several masters and PhD students from medical, midwifery, dietetics and psychology backgrounds. I also supervise research projects for trainees in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.



Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Anderson, N. H., Gordon, A., Li, M., Cronin, R. S., Thompson, J. M. D., Raynes-Greenow, C. H., ... Wilson, J. (2019). Association of Supine Going-to-Sleep Position in Late Pregnancy With Reduced Birth Weight: A Secondary Analysis of an Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis. JAMA network open, 2 (10)10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.12614
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Ed Mitchell, Ngaire Anderson, Minglan Li, John Thompson, Robin Cronin
  • Dalrymple, K. V., Thompson, J. M. D., Begum, S., Godfrey, K. M., Poston, L., Seed, P. T., ... North, R. (2019). Relationships of maternal body mass index and plasma biomarkers with childhood body mass index and adiposity at 6 years: The Children of SCOPE study. Pediatric obesity, 14 (10)10.1111/ijpo.12537
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Ed Mitchell, John Thompson, Clare Wall, Andrew Shelling
  • Derraik, J. G. B., Pasupathy, D., McCowan, L. M. E., Poston, L., Taylor, R. S., Simpson, N. A. B., ... Cutfield, W. S. (2019). Paternal contributions to large-for-gestational-age term babies: findings from a multicenter prospective cohort study. Journal of developmental origins of health and disease, 10 (5), 529-535. 10.1017/s2040174419000035
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: José Derraik, Rennae Taylor, Wayne Cutfield
  • Souza, R. T., McKenzie, E. J., Jones, B., de Seymour, J. V., Thomas, M. M., Zarate, E., ... Villas-Boas, S. (2019). Trace biomarkers associated with spontaneous preterm birth from the maternal serum metabolome of asymptomatic nulliparous women - parallel case-control studies from the SCOPE cohort. Scientific reports, 9 (1)10.1038/s41598-019-50252-7
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Elizabeth McKenzie, Beatrix Jones
  • Bradford, B. F., Cronin, R. S., McCowan, L. M. E., McKinlay, C. J. D., Mitchell, E. A., & Thompson, J. M. D. (2019). Association between maternally perceived quality and pattern of fetal movements and late stillbirth. Scientific reports, 9 (1)10.1038/s41598-019-46323-4
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Ed Mitchell, Robin Cronin, Chris McKinlay, John Thompson
  • Stacey, T., Tennant, P., McCowan, L., Mitchell, E. A., Budd, J., Li, M., ... Heazell, A. (2019). Gestational diabetes and the risk of late stillbirth: a case-control study from England, UK. BJOG : an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, 126 (8), 973-982. 10.1111/1471-0528.15659
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: John Thompson, Ed Mitchell, Minglan Li
  • Groom, K. M., McCowan, L. M., Mackay, L. K., Lee, A. C., Gardener, G., Unterscheider, J., ... Reid, R. A. (2019). STRIDER NZAus: a multicentre randomised controlled trial of sildenafil therapy in early-onset fetal growth restriction. BJOG : an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, 126 (8), 997-1006. 10.1111/1471-0528.15658
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Katie Groom, Laura Mackay, Arier Lee
  • Naiqiso, S. L. S., Christensen, P. M., Okesene-Gafa, K., & McCowan, L. M. (2019). Gestational weight gain in a multi-ethnic sample of pregnant women from Counties Manukau Health, Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand Medical Journal, 132 (1497), 37-45. Related URL.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Karaponi Okesene-Gafa


Contact details

Primary office location

M&HS BUILDING 507 - Bldg 507
Level 1, Room 1002
New Zealand

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