Throughout all the chaos of coronavirus, you’ve probably heard someone chuckle about an upcoming “corona baby boom.” While couples are quarantined together, there’s a perception that a lot of sex is happening.
Should we expect a coronavirus baby boom? When it comes to this pandemic, conception is more complicated than simply tracking the birth rate. Across the globe, coronavirus is impacting the reproductive choice of both people who want to conceive and those who don’t. For people in the middle of trying to start or grow a family, especially those using reproductive technology, the time sensitive nature of conception conflicts with this pandemic.
Will there be a coronavirus baby boom?
There are some reports of increased birth rates following short-term disasters like hurricanes (although these may be mostly anecdotal) (1), but little is known about how pandemics affect fertility. Facility-based child births sharply declined during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia, but increased in 2015 when the country was declared free of the virus (2). One report of the birth rate in Sweden following the 1918 Spanish Influenza found that the birth rate declined long-term (3). It was reported that the birth rate hit a 20-year low in Britain following the Spanish Flu, although it was believed the decline was largely attributed to the deaths of reproductive-aged women (4).
Contrary to the baby boom narrative that is prevalent online, the coronavirus pandemic is more likely to cause a decline in birth rate.
Illness with COVID-19, even when symptoms are mild, might mean couples are less likely to have sex and might even be sleeping in separate rooms. Grief and other emotions surrounding this pandemic and its loss of life might impact sexual behavior. Job loss and economic uncertainty might lead to delaying pregnancy. Ultimately, there will also be people who cannot control their reproductive choice during this pandemic.
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Is it safe to conceive during coronavirus?
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other national authorities like the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) have stated that pregnancy does not appear to put a person at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to the general population (5, 6). While it’s likely that most pregnant people with COVID-19 won’t get sicker than non-pregnant people (6), other respiratory infections like the flu and SARS-CoV have disproportionately affected pregnant people in the past (7, 8).
There isn’t much data about how COVID-19 (the illness caused by the new coronavirus) impacts a fetus during pregnancy.
There’s some data out of early reports of COVID-19 in China that the virus might be linked to premature birth, but the connection isn’t clear (9). It also seems that vertical transmission or “mother-to-baby” transmission during pregnancy might be possible (10). Most of the babies born to women with COVID-19 in these studies had good outcomes. You can read more about each study and its outcomes here. These studies are so new and small that they aren’t conclusive. Still, this information might be concerning to someone planning to conceive soon.
People planning to conceive may also rightfully be concerned about the care they would receive during pregnancy. As a public health crisis, coronavirus has overburdened the healthcare system in a way that could compromise care for pregnant people (11). Even in the best of situations right now, pregnancy providers are encouraged to reduce the number of in-person obstetric visits to reduce the risk of viral transmission (12). This pandemic might also impact the support pregnant people can receive by restricting visitors at prenatal appointments and potentially during labor and postpartum recovery (12).
Is it safe to start or continue fertility treatments during coronavirus?
The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) has expressed concern about the limited amount of information available to influence elective conception right now, particularly how the virus might impact a developing fetus in the first trimester (13).
Sadly for many people in the middle of trying to conceive, FIGO recommends people avoid pregnancy and discontinue fertility treatments for the time being (13).
The Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends that people who are currently in the middle of a treatment cycle should still obtain care for the current cycle (14), but that new treatment cycles including ovulation induction, intrauterine inseminations (IUIs), in vitro fertilization (IVF) (including egg retrievals and frozen embryo transfers), and non-urgent gamete (egg and sperm) freezing are all on hold until more is understood about the implications of the virus (14).
Contraceptive access during coronavirus
While some reproductive medicine organizations advise delaying pregnancy until more is understood about the virus, not everyone can control when they conceive. Lack of access to contraception and safe abortion continues to be compromised throughout this pandemic. Without easy access to contraception and abortion, unplanned pregnancies are likely to occur during the coronavirus quarantine (15).
Stay-at-home orders also mean that some people are quarantined with abusers. Physical abuse and sexual abuse are often intertwined. Research suggests that people who experience domestic violence are less likely to use contraception and more likely to experience unwanted pregnancy (16). In some situations, partners may disapprove of the use of contraception (17) and birth control sabotage can be motivated by a desire to control reproductive choice (18).
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What to do if you’re trying to conceive during coronavirus
Conception is a deeply personal choice. There will always be environmental and psychological factors that contribute to a person’s desire to start or grow their family. Understandably, coronavirus may make the decision whether or not to conceive overwhelmingly difficult. This pandemic will also force some people to change their reproductive plans without their consent.
During this time of uncertainty, the best people to guide your conception plans are those on your reproductive health team. Although your reproductive plans might change temporarily because of coronavirus, providers are monitoring the situation closely and will work to keep your reproductive intentions as close to what you planned as possible. In the meantime, if you are hoping to conceive, continue to eat a balanced diet and take prenatal vitamins with folic acid.
Keep updating your cycle, symptoms, and sexual activity in Clue and we’ll keep you informed as we find out more.
*If you are currently experiencing domestic violence, and are located in one of the following countries, please call a hotline for resources. If your country is not listed below, please search for a trusted resource specific to your location online.
United States Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
United Kingdom National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247
German Violence Against Women Hotline 08000 116 016
Australia National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
New Zealand Women's Refuge 0800 REFUGE (0800 733 843)
Violences femmes info 3919
SOS Viols (rape) : 0 800 05 95 95
Domestic violence Victims : 08 842 846 37
Ending Violence Association of Canada Visit website for phone number for each state