COVID-19 pandemic impacts family planning for NYC moms
Nearly half of mothers in New York City who had been trying to become pregnant before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped trying during the first few months of the outbreak, researchers reported in JAMA Network Open.
Also, a third of the women who were thinking about becoming pregnant before the pandemic but had not yet begun trying said they were no longer considering it.
“Our findings show that the initial COVID-19 outbreak appears to have made women think twice about expanding their families and, in some cases, reduce the number of children they ultimately intend to have,” author Linda G. Kahn, PhD, MPH, said in a press release.
“This is yet another example of the potential long-lasting consequences of the pandemic beyond the more obvious health and economic effects,” continued Kahn, an assistant professor in the departments of pediatrics and population health at NYU Langone Health.
As pregnancy becomes riskier and more difficult to achieve with age, the delays prompted by the pandemic may increase health risks for both mother and child as well as the need for costly fertility treatments, Kahn said.
The 1,179 New York City mothers who participated in the study already had at least one child who was aged 3 years or younger, Kahn added, so the challenges of caring for a young child during the peak of New York City’s outbreak and its subsequent lockdown may have influenced their hesitancy to have a baby.
The researchers further noted early evidence of a birthrate decline in the United States during the pandemic.
The nation saw approximately 300,000 fewer births in 2020 than experts had expected based on annual fertility trends, with a particular drop during the last 2 months of the year, which corresponds with fewer conceptions at the pandemic’s beginning in March.
Until now, the researchers said, few investigations have explored the root causes behind individual parents’ decisions to delay pregnancy. The researchers said their study was the first to examine pregnancy plans among mothers during the first wave of COVID-19 in New York City.
The researchers analyzed data from the ongoing New York University Children’s Health and Environment Study. The survey, which collected data beginning in the middle of April 2020, asked the mothers to recall their pregnancy plans before the pandemic and whether they were continuing with those plans.
Fewer than half of the mothers who said they had stopped trying to become pregnant were certain they would resume trying to become pregnant once the pandemic ended, suggesting they may abandon rather than delay their plans to expand their families, Kahn said.
Mothers with higher stress levels and greater financial insecurity were especially likely to postpone or end plans for an additional child, the researchers added, highlighting the importance of financial health in pregnancy decisions and suggesting that more financial support may be needed to address the fertility decline in the U.S. that started in 2008.
“These results emphasize the toll the coronavirus has taken not only on individual parents, but perhaps on fertility rates overall,” author Melanie Jacobson, PhD, MPH, said in the release.
Jacobson, an epidemiologist and research scientist in the division of environmental pediatrics at NYU Langone Health, warned that the study only included women who were planning to have children and did not account for unplanned pregnancies.
The researchers plan to repeat the survey with the same group of mothers and investigate the potential impact of vaccination, which was not available when the survey was first taken, Jacobson said.