With so many people hunkered down right now in an attempt to flatten the curve, it’s only logical that people might wonder if there’s a coronavirus baby boom around the corner. “Yet history suggests otherwise,” says Dr. Jaimie Meyer, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist and assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine. While it’s impossible to predict the future, we can look at how pandemics throughout history have affected birth rates.
History actually shows that we can probably expect a dip in birth rates after this. “Epidemiological data from other times of stress and quarantine, including famines, earthquakes, heatwaves and contagious outbreaks like Ebola and flu, suggests that during events with high community-wide mortality, there is actually a dip in births nine months later,” explains Dr. Meyer. However, “After the traumatic event resolves, starting 10-11 months after an epidemic, birth rates begin to recover,” Dr. Meyer adds.
This dip in birth rates has been noted as far back as 1889 during a flu pandemic. One study titled “Coupling between death spikes and birth troughs. Part 1: Evidence” (harsh but true) shows that the dip in birth rates is not limited to just contagious outbreaks either. Disasters of any kind, including the 1923 Tokyo earthquake and 9/11, also accounted for the two largest birth rate dips after the 1918 and 1920 Spanish Flu pandemic. Other studies have also suggested that birth rates after a 1300 pandemic of the bubonic plague declined for fifty years afterwards.
Looking at modern data, the rise in birth rates back to baseline begins to happen around ten to 11 months after the disaster. While something like Coronavirus or a flu might take a bit longer to officially clear, it’s interesting because the ten to 11 month rule seems to be true of all disasters, including hurricanes, which wreak havoc in a much shorter time frame. It seems like it takes ten months for people to mentally move on and start having babies again.
“If you are considering becoming pregnant during the coronavirus pandemic, just be aware that if you do become pregnant while your community is on lockdown, you may have less than regular access to prenatal healthcare,” says Dr. Meyer. With news that our hospitals are likely to run out of space, it’s probably not the best time to have to go to a hospital right now if you can help it.
Although there have been no known cases of women passing the novel coronavirus on to their fetuses during pregnancy in China, experts are still investigating whether or not women who are pregnant and become infected with novel coronavirus may have adverse birth outcomes like premature delivery. Complications including pregnancy loss, miscarriage, stillbirths, were observed with past coronaviruses (SARS-CoV and MERS), and high fevers during the first trimester of pregnancy can also increase the risk of certain birth defects, according to the CDC’s website.
“During this time of incredible stress, it is perhaps tempting to romanticize a baby boom to give us all some hope to cling to (Love in the Time of Cholera is one of my favorite books too) — but it is most important right now to keep yourself and your community healthy,” adds Dr. Meyer. No matter what your game plan is for your fertility right now, please stay home and be careful. Your top priority should be the safety of yourself, loved ones, and those you don’t even know but may come into contact with.
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