Since the stay at home orders emerged there have been plenty of jokes and speculation about whether or not there will be a significant baby boom, come the summer and autumn of 2021.
On the surface it sounds a bit funny…everyone stuck at home with more leisure time/more pleasure time but the speculation has scientists sparring over whether there will or won’t be a baby boom post-lockdown.
While the ‘time and frequency’ arguments seem to favour an increase in births in early 2021, some scientists are quick to point out that COVID-19 social conditions might actually see a reduction in babies. We know from early figures in Wuhan province, where the virus originated and who were the first to lock down, that there was a significant increase in divorce applications so that is likely to go in the ‘against’ column also.
Interestingly, some scientists are focussing on the stress of COVID-19 conditions as an argument against a boom. A North American specialist, Sarita Bennet, from the peak midwifery body says that “Statistics that show when there is panic or terror, the very normal mammalian response is an increase in preterm births and miscarriages,” Bennett says. “The more you feed the panic, the more of a (negative) effect on pregnant people.”
Based on those statistics, it feels like the existence of a baby boom would confirm that ‘stress and panic’ are appropriate sentiments of lockdown and our enforced togetherness.
Other sociologists are predicting a decrease in births based on factors such as economic uncertainty, difficulty of access to medical care during the first trimester and general rules of fertility which state that baby-making has less to do with frequency and more to do with actual conception.
Many of those reasons double as the predictive factors of a baby boom – restricted access to birth control for example and a shut down of factories responsible for its production; lack of entertainment options and open venues seem to point to the boom and the economic uncertainty in some developing countries is seen as a reason to have more, not less, children.
We know there has been a spike in the rate of puppy and pet adoption during COVID-19, but it is anyone’s guess as to whether that is an indicator of people wanting to nurture their nurture instincts or whether it is transference and avoidance of the biological clock.
One study that has emerged, caught my attention as profoundly interesting relates to an unexpected reduction in the number of preemie babies in NICU.
In contrast to Bennet’s comments above that correlate the ‘panic and terror’ to a predicted rise in pre-term births for mammals (like us), COVID-19 seems to have bucked the trend.
Researchers in Ireland, Denmark, Canada and the USA have observed a stark reduction in pre-term births and babies born with low and very low birth rates as a result of prematurity. Each study reported a notable reduction after observing empty NICU wards. The Calgary team found a reduction of around 50%. In a data set that included over 31,000 infants, the Danish team found a reduction in pre-term births of 90 per cent.
No one seems to know why this has happened, particularly given the connection between stress and preterm birth which you would think would be amplified during COVID-19. More study is needed to look at why babies are being born healthier and to more healthy mothers than ever before in a time when the planet is sick and a global pandemic rages.
Perhaps it is simply more evidence that the great de-hurrying that COVID-19 has created has enabled and enforced self-care and rest in a way that is not normally available to rushing women.
Time will tell. Really. We’ll know who was right in 6-9 months I suspect.