You've probably seen the memes. That a future generation will be known as the ‘quaranteens’ or the ‘coronials’ – because there was sure to be an imminent baby boom due to the coronavirus pandemic. It makes sense in theory: with so many of us holed up at home with little else to do, couples might be filling their time with sex, sex, a Netflix break, oh and then some more sex. Plus, one of the world’s biggest condom producers temporarily shut down last March… leading to predictions of a shortage.
But new research suggests the exact opposite has happened in reality. According to a report by PwC, the UK is likely to see a 'baby bust' this year, in 2021, with less babies born than ever before. Researchers predict the annual birth rate, which was around 720,000 this time a decade ago, will drop to just 569,000 over the coming year - with fears over the stability of employment, the economy and health all being pointed to as the cause.
So... should you be trying for a baby during the coronavirus outbreak? Is there any guidance on it? We know that pregnant women have been included in the list of people at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) of coronavirus, as a precaution, and that women in their third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant) you should be particularly careful to social distancing.
Beyond that, there's no specific guidance about whether getting pregnant mid-pandemic is advisable or not. So what are prospective parents thinking about it? With the fast spread of the virus across the UK, the NHS is once again under a huge amount of strain and many of us are facing financial worries. For some, the outbreak has made them decide to stop their conception efforts for the time being.
“We’ve decided to stop for a few months,” says Harriet,* 34, who had been trying to conceive for around half a year before the outbreak started last year. “I’d worry about having to go in for hospital appointments or if there’s another peak around my due date.”
She’s not alone. Research by Natural Cycles carried out in the first few months of the pandemic found that many had been using the birth control app differently, with users who were previously trying for a baby (using the app to predict the best time in the month to conceive) having decided to stop. They also noted a 2% reduction in those using the app to plan a pregnancy (in week-over-week data) and the rate of users switching the app’s mode from 'prevent' to 'plan' a pregnancy decreased by 3% week-on-week.
“The coronavirus outbreak could have an impact and actually reduce the number of couples looking to get pregnant,” says Morten Ulstead, CEO of fertility start-up ExSeed predicted at the time - and it seems her estimations were in line with what's happening. “Stress and financial constraints or even fear of virus infection will play their part. This uncertainty will be particularly distressing for those who were in the process of trying for a baby.”
On the flip side, the world feeling as if it’s on pause right now has caused us all to re-evaluate what’s important to us. And for some, that could be deciding that they want to start a family. “Suddenly my work doesn’t seem as important anymore,” says Nafisah,* 29. “I was working all hours of the day but now I have all this time to think about what I really want: and it’s made me realise that I do want to have children.”
Currently there’s no national recommendation asking people to stop their conception efforts. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has reassured pregnant woman that it's more than likely that they will be fine, stating: "Becoming pregnant during the coronavirus pandemic is a matter of personal choice."
However, the guidance does clarify that anyone considering getting pregnant at this time should still consider themselves potentially vulnerable. “This is down to lack of data,” says Dr Ippokratis Sarris, Consultant and Director at King’s Fertility. “There is no proven risk in the first and second trimester. We think that COVID-19 doesn’t cause an increased risk of miscarriage.”
“If you are over 28 weeks (so in your third trimester) the worry is that if you catch COVID-19 you may need a premature delivery in order to be able to treat the mother more effectively,” he adds. And the Royal College Of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has also found emerging evidence that transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy or birth is probable. They are keen to emphasise, though, that in all reported cases of newborn babies developing coronavirus soon after birth, the baby was not severely ill.
“The evidence we have so far is that pregnant women are still no more likely to contract the infection than the general population,” Dr Sarris adds. “What we do know is that pregnancy can alter a woman’s immune system and, in a small proportion of women, this change can alter how the body handles viral infections.”
These concerns arguably also shouldn’t affect the decision to start trying now, as – even if you conceive straight away – the baby would be born in nine months time when (we hope, thanks to the vaccines) the situation should be very different.
Regardless, many remain put off. And making the decision to put your conceiving efforts on hold isn’t an easy one. “I am worried as I turned 35 last year and there’s so much out there that says my fertility is sharply declining,” says Harriet. “I worry this decision could mean that I am risking my chances of having a family.”
“Nothing dramatic happens on a month by month basis,” reassures Dr Sarris. “Your body doesn’t know your birthday, it won’t be affected from the day you turn 35. Your fertility doesn’t drop each month so small delays have very little effect overall, it is a much more gradual process than people think.”
“I almost wish someone would just tell me what to do,” adds Harriet. “As I keep going back and forth changing my mind about it but we’ve decided to just keep talking every month and see where we’re at. At the moment I’d like things to be a little more certain before we start trying again – as I know I’d want support from my family if I was to fall pregnant now and without being able to see them I would find that difficult.”
“We’ve decided just to trust fate,” says Nafisah*. “I know friends of mine would be too stressed to be trying now, but it just feels right for us.”
The situation is changing every day, but ultimately the decision lies in each individual couple – and checking in with how they’re really feeling about it. “These are unprecedented times,” adds Dr Sarris. “They’re testing relationships too so it really is down to the individual. People who are at the most at risk are those with existing medical conditions, if you do fall into the vulnerable category then you should consider not trying until the crisis starts to resolve. If you don’t fall into this category then there is no recommendation to stop trying.”
As with all of life’s biggest decision there is no right or wrong answer – it’s just all about weighing up the benefits, being open with your partner about how you’re feeling and trusting that – whatever happens – things will be alright in the end.
The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it's possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you're in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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