COVID-19 Puts Babies on Hold

The pandemic has many reconsidering how many children to have.

Posted Aug 07, 2020

Engin Akyurt/Unsplash
Source: Engin Akyurt/Unsplash

When the pandemic caused widespread lockdowns in March, I raised the question, More Babies or More Divorces After COVID-19? I compared the possibilities to other disasters such as hurricanes and the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City… and speculated.

Four months later, the pandemic continues to create personal and economic upheaval. Signs point to fewer babies in the coming years, continuing a trend that gained noticeable momentum during the Great Recession in 2008. According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the birth rate dropped dramatically and has remained low.

A recent survey from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research and policy organization, found that "about a third of women in the United States ages 18 to 49 were planning to postpone pregnancy or forgo adding a child to their family because of the pandemic.”

Uptick in Requests for Birth Control

I spoke with Dr. Julie Graves, a family medicine and public health doctor and the Associate Director of Clinical Services for Nurx. Nurx is a telehealth company launched in 2016 that provides women’s reproductive health care, prescribed online and delivered to their home. Since the pandemic started, the company has seen a 50 percent increase in birth control requests and a 40 percent uptick in requests for the morning after pill. In the case of the latter, women told Dr. Graves that “they just wanted to keep protection on hand in case they needed it.”

Early on in the pandemic “barriers to getting contraception were stunning,” she told me. “As the pandemic unfolded, access to your own physician was problematic, going to the pharmacy and waiting in line was troubling if you could get a prescription from your doctor. Many physicians were called on to handle COVID-19 cases and unavailable for their regular patients.” With cases surging in different parts of the country, it’s difficult to know how or if women will face barriers in getting contraception to prevent a pregnancy they don’t want right now. 

Baby-Making Decisions in a Shaky Economy

The trajectory of this virus remains unknown, but its economic devastation is affecting how people think about family size. They worry about starting or expanding their family for financial reasons.

In July, a U.S. Census Bureau survey reported that 50 percent of adults have experienced their own or someone in their household’s loss of income because of the pandemic. The numbers are almost identical for men and women. Because children are expensive, job loss or income reduction will likely influence baby-making decisions negatively. In our COVID world, those with one child wonder, Is Being an Only Child a Problem? 

For now, the economy likely supersedes thoughts of having a first, second child or more children. “The tenuous economy is one of the many tragedies of this pandemic,” notes Dr. Graves. But if you look back, she adds, “Women have been worried about when to have their babies for decades. We have asked women who want to be successful in the work world to hold off starting families.”

Apple and Facebook, for example, offered egg freezing as a perk. Was it a perk or something else? For women as they get older, waiting to have children as many do can affect their chances of becoming pregnant with or without fertility assistance. Nonetheless, the pandemic has caused some women to put their IVF treatments on hold.

With an effective, tested vaccine still a hope and COVID-19 continuing to spiral in many states, giving birth in some areas is challenging. Although hospitals had and have concern about being supportive, partners can be kept out of the labor and delivery room. “Early on people were afraid. Sadly, our culture is not conducive to families on so many levels, and the pandemic has laid bare and intensified many of the issues,” explains Dr. Graves.

Because labor and delivery regulations can change according to COVID-19’s prevalence at the time and definitive studies on the risks to mother and baby during the epidemic are not yet available, couples are being appropriately cautious about becoming pregnant. Writing in The Atlantic magazine, journalist Joe Pinsker put it this way, “…in times of heightened uncertainty, people are less likely to bring children into the world. And the future is doubly uncertain right now: Potential parents are likely worried both about their (and their children’s) future health, and their future finances.” 

COVID-19 has added another layer of complexity to an already difficult and life-altering question: How many children to have. Is the social, emotional, or financial fallout from the pandemic affecting your family planning decisions? Please add your thoughts to the comment section.

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Copyright @2020 by Susan Newman

Facebook image: FrameStockFootages/Shutterstock

References

Lindberg, Laura D. VandeVusse, Alicia, Mueller, Jennifer and Kirstein, Marielle. (2020) “Early Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from the 2020." Guttmacher Survey of Reproductive Health Experiences.” Guttmacher Institute: June.

US Census Bureau (2020) “Household Pulse Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.”  July 23.