NEW YORK — The future of American families appears to still be in COVID quarantine. A new study reveals one in two mothers are putting off plans to have any more children due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Researchers from New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine finds over 49 percent of mothers who had been trying to become pregnant again before the start of the pandemic stopped within the first few months of the COVID-19 outbreak. The survey of 1,179 mothers in New York City also found that one in three women who had been thinking about having another baby before the pandemic but had not yet begun trying are 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,” says study lead author Dr. Linda Kahn in a university release. “This is yet another example of the potential long-lasting consequences of the pandemic beyond the more obvious health and economic effects.”
Delaying pregnancy comes with risks
Dr. Kahn, an assistant professor at NYU Grossman, adds that the delays in having another baby prompted by the pandemic may lead to increased health risks for both mother and child. Additionally, some women may need costly fertility treatments in the future. Since all of the women in the study already had at least one child under three years-old, Dr. Kahn notes that it is possible that the challenges of caring for a toddler during the peak of New York’s outbreak and subsequent lockdown may have played a role in their hesitancy to have another baby.
Early evidence has already identified a birthrate decline in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic. Recent figures show that the country saw roughly 300,000 fewer births in 2020 than experts predicted using annual fertility trends. There was a particular drop in the last two months of the year, which corresponds with fewer conceptions at the beginning of the outbreak in March.
However, until now, few studies have explored the root causes behind individual parents’ decisions to delay pregnancy. The new study is the first to examine pregnancy plans among mothers during the first wave of COVID-19 in New York.
The researchers analyzed data from an ongoing pregnancy and child health study. In the survey, which collected data beginning in mid-April 2020, the moms recalled their pregnancy plans before the pandemic as well as whether they were still going forward with their plans at the time of the poll.
Financial struggles also play a role
The findings revealed that fewer than half of mothers who had stopped trying to become pregnant were certain they would resume trying to become pregnant once the pandemic ended (43%), suggesting that they may abandon rather than just delay their plans to expand their families. Those with higher stress levels and greater financial insecurity were especially likely to postpone or end their plans for an additional child.
The research team says their findings highlight the importance of financial health in parents’ decisions regarding pregnancy and suggest that additional financial support for families may be necessary to address America’s ongoing fertility decline — which actually started in 2008.
“These results emphasize the toll the coronavirus has taken not only on individual parents, but perhaps on fertility rates overall,” concludes study senior author Dr. Melanie Jacobson.
The team now plans to repeat the survey with the same group of mothers and explore the potential impact of vaccination, an option not available at the time of the original study.
This findings appear in the journal JAMA Network Open.
South West News Service Stephen Beech contributed to this report.