When the majority of the US was banned more than a year ago, birth rates dropped dramatically, a new study suggests.
University of Michigan researchers saw a 14 percent decrease in pregnancies after the state’s stay-at-home order.
Using hospital electronic records to see how pregnancy volume had changed from week to week, the team found a sharp decrease compared to the previous three years.
COVID resulted in job losses and general economic insecurity that led many women to change their birth plans – and choose to have children later or fewer.
However, researchers predict a surge in pregnancies in the summer of 2021 – in time for the country’s pandemic rebound.
Pregnancies treated by the University of Michigan Hospital declined after the state-mandated stay at home was issued, indicated here by the orange dashed line. The blue dashed line indicates when the home stay arrangement was lifted in June
The Michigan hospital’s birth rates remained constant from 2017 to 2020 – until COVID hit.
When the U.S. closed in March 2020, scientists weren’t sure how the home stay orders would affect birth rates.
On the one hand, mass layoffs and economic instability meant that many families wanting children had to postpone their plans. On the flip side, some experts speculated that couples locked up at home would have children simply for lack of other entertainment.
New data suggested that the earlier theory prevailed: The US saw a baby bust, not a baby boom.
Around nine months after the lockdown began – in January and February 2021 – births fell by 10 percent compared to the previous year.
A new study from the University of Michigan Academic Hospital published on JAMA Network Open Thursday shows this trend.
The Michigan researchers studied hospital birth rates since 2017 and modeled for fall 2021.
They used hospital records documenting patients’ first prenatal visits and ultrasound scans to indicate the beginning of a pregnancy.
Michigan’s state stay-at-home order began on March 15, 2020. By early April, pregnancy visits had declined sharply – 14 percent compared to pre-closure levels, from about 145 per week to 125 per week.
Through additional analysis, the researchers found that this decline was related to fewer pregnancies – not just pregnant patients who delayed hospital visits for fear of contracting COVID.
The pregnancy rate at this hospital remained low through the end of the Michigan home stay arrangement in June 2020.
Pregnancies rose through the summer of 2020 and then declined again in the winter as COVID increased in the United States
Pregnancy rates slowed when the US was banned, a Michigan study shows
Those lower conception rates in spring 2020 resulted in the lower birth rates seen that winter.
Many women changed their pregnancy plans when COVID hit.
A survey by the Guttmacher Institute showed that in the spring of 2020, more than 40 percent of women changed their plans regarding or wanting to have children.
Around a third of the women surveyed stated that they would become pregnant later or have fewer children.
This change of plan was more common among women who have not yet had children and among people belonging to groups already experiencing health and social inequalities.
More black and Hispanic women said they wanted children later or fewer children than white women – 44 and 48 percent, versus 28 percent.
LGBTQ women and low-income women were also more likely to report this change in preference.
Numbers from the new study are consistent with a 10% decrease in births seen across the country about nine months after the lockdown began
Such an attitude change can also be linked to job loss – more common among women during COVID.
Women lost 5.4 million net jobs during the pandemic recession, one million more than men.
Black, Hispanic, and Asian women have had more job losses than white women. Women with these identities were also more likely to lose friends and family members to COVID.
Despite all of these societal troubles and attitude changes, the birth rate is likely to recover if the US pulls out of the pandemic.
Using modeling, the Michigan researchers predict that the pregnancy rate will rise in the summer of 2021 – up to 15 percent higher than this spring.
This means the US could also see a lot of post-COVID babies in early 2022.
The researchers note that child birth has been a focus of recent government policies, such as the child tax credit included in the American bailout plan.
Such economic support can be a turning point for some of the women who decided to have children during the COVID season.