After a major power outage went New York City in the Dark In 1965, the New York Times suggested that this would lead to a city-wide baby boom, citing a surge in births in local hospitals. After a snow storm hit Boston in 1978, the Boston Globe predicted it would lead to a baby boom. In 2012 the New York Times reported on the possibility of a surge in births after Hurricane Sandy, calling it “Sandy Syndrome”. And after a 2013 federal government shutdown led to mass layoffs, the Washington Post wondered, “Is Washington in the midst of a post-shutdown baby boom?”
The logic behind these predictions is that when couples are cooped up, they turn to each other. And babies are made. As it turned out, however, none of these events resulted in a baby boom nine months later.
But social restrictions put in place to slow the COVID-19 virus have kept Americans attached to their homes for much longer than any power outage, hurricane, or blizzard. The virus has led to recession and job loss. And after almost a year of pandemic, speculation about an increase in births has resurfaced.
Population growth in the United States had slowed to a crawl before the pandemic, partly because there had been fewer births in recent years. The fertility rate – the estimated number of births a woman will have in her lifetime – was 1.7 in early 2020, its lowest level in 40 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Could pandemic pregnancies hit numbers high enough to reverse the declining US fertility rate and give the country’s population a boost?
If history has the last word, the answer is no. Economic and health crises usually lead to fewer births, not more. However, some hospitals, including the UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, say they are seeing an increase and expect to give birth to more babies.
High hopes in Pittsburgh
Whether or not the impact of the COVID pandemic on fertility rates is following historical trends is likely to become clearer when the 2020 data is tabulated later this year. Certain features of the pandemic, such as the way health and economic impacts were felt unevenly across races, income levels, and sectors of employment, could, at least in some places, affect birth trends.
Southwest Pennsylvania could be one of them. “What is interesting is that expected births appear to be increasing in Pittsburgh,” said Dr. Susan Lareau, Director of Obstetrics at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. “We saw a steady increase in expected deliveries during the pandemic.”
Typically, Magee-Womens would see a 1 percent increase in the birth rate. Now, however, the hospital is reporting a 3 percent increase in shipments, which are expected to begin in December 2020, compared to last year.
History: No baby boom
“The intuition behind the cause of a baby boom is based on historical stories about what happens after a snow storm,” said Philip Levine, professor of economics at Wellesley College. “Everyone is stuck inside and has nothing to do and one thing leads to another and there are more babies. That’s cute and romantic and all of that, but we’re not there right now. “
Levine recently co-authored a Brookings Institution report that estimated the national public health crisis and recession will result in about 300,000 fewer US births this year. “The economic crisis we’ve been through and the effects of stress, anxiety and health resulting from the pandemic itself – none of these things are good for fertility.”
Economic conditions are important to the birth of babies, according to the report, which found that a one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate was linked to a 1.4 percent decrease in birth rates in metropolitan areas. Similar trends can also be observed outside of the metro areas, as studies of nationwide data suggest.
And that could have long-term effects on the population. Post-2007-09 fertility rates suggest that when women have fewer babies in the short term, fewer children over the course of their lives. “The great recession had a significant impact on births and resulted in a falling birth rate,” Levine said. “Even after the recession, births continued to decline.”
Other circumstances are contributing to the decline in US birth rates. For example, access to more effective forms of contraception has played a key role, particularly access to intrauterine devices or IUDs, which have been effective for years.
Women with the highest level of education are the least likely to give birth in their lifetime. But in the past 20 years the proportion of highly educated women who become mothers has increased in the United States. In 2014, 80 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 44 had a PhD. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, a professional qualification had been born at some point in its life – more than 10 years earlier when 65 percent of women with a similar educational level had given birth. Women with bachelor’s or master’s degrees also increasingly became mothers during this period.
More recently, the decline in births in the United States has been due to a sharp decline in young mothers with less education. In 2018, the teenage birth rate in the United States fell below 18 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19 for the first time since 1940. This emerges from an analysis of the most recent 2018 data available from the National Center for Health Statistics. The teen birth rate of 17.4 births per 1,000 women in 2018 was less than half of the 41.5 births per 1,000 women in that age group in 2008.
The last major pandemic resulted in fewer babies being born. Each increase in mortality during the Spanish flu epidemic at the beginning of the 20th century caused the birth rate to drop by about 21 births per 1,000 people. Similar “death spikes” and subsequent fertility losses also occurred after Hurricane Katrina and the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa in 2015. This emerges from a March 2020 report by the Institute of Family Studies, a conservative think tank that deals with marriage and family issues.
While birth dates for 2020 are still being collected, some researchers are already pointing to evidence pointing to ongoing baby failure in the US. An estimated 34 percent of American women have either postponed their plans to have a child or cut the number of children they can expect due to the pandemic, according to a survey by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health research company.
A study published by the German economic research institute IZA Institute of Labor Economics predicts a 15 percent decline in monthly births in the US between November 2020 and February 2021. The forecast is based on an analysis of Google Trends data that weighed the trend in searches for pregnancy-related terms that might reflect higher birth rates with the trend in unemployment-related searches that researchers linked to lower birth rates.
Pregnant in a pandemic
Alysia Davis started 2020 with big plans and high expectations. “We wanted to have a family,” said the 32-year-old Homewood health worker. “It was something we’d talked about a lot and prepared for.” It wasn’t long before the March pandemic hit and Davis learned she was pregnant with their first child. By then, their expectations had already been tempered by the global health crisis.
“When I told my mom, she wanted to hug me,” said Davis. “I had to say ‘no’ to her because she is in the high risk population. I had to tell her through a screen door. It was devastating. “
One thing seems clear about the pandemic: it is a difficult time to be pregnant and it is forcing women and health care providers to adapt their pregnancies, care and expectations to exceptional circumstances.
COVID-19 has created greater uncertainty among pregnant and postpartum women due to factors ranging from changing birth plans and visits to the doctor to worrying about how the coronavirus might affect their babies, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and feel fears.
Researchers are still learning how COVID-19 affects pregnant women. However, some early studies suggest that they are at greater risk of a serious COVID case than women who are not pregnant. And pregnant women with COVID-19 could be at increased risk for unwanted pregnancy outcomes like premature birth, according to the CDC.
“First-time mothers generally feel stressed about what is happening to their bodies and their child,” said Megan Rinard, a nurse visiting Allegheny County with Nurse-Family Partnership at home. Time mothers. “Does that feel normal? Or is the baby okay? The general stressors are still there and then there is that extra bit of the coronavirus to think about. “
There is also concern that the pandemic is threatening the health of women in general. “One thing we saw in the beginning, and I’m concerned, is that women aren’t getting routine care – not getting mammograms, not getting colonoscopies,” said Dr. Lareau. “So we pick things up early and I’m worried we will [later] Find advanced breast cancer and colon cancer. “
Holly Pisanelli is one of the lucky ones. “It’s been a long journey,” said the 42-year-old, a Highmark attorney. “We wanted to try another round of IVF [invitro fertilization] in the spring. Then hit COVID. As soon as everything opened up, we wanted to jump into the next round. Given my age, we didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the pandemic to end. “
Even so, the pandemic brought worries it could not have foreseen. “The procedure is taking place in a hospital and there have been concerns about the increased risk. They weren’t sure how COVID would affect pregnant women – if it were transmitted to the child. The concern was there, but the risk was worth it for us. “
Pisanelli found out she was pregnant this summer. After years of waiting, she was ready to party. “When you imagine having a baby – the celebrations, the parties – it won’t be the same. We just have to rethink things and be creative.”