NEWS

No, There Wasn't a Pandemic Baby Boom. Here's Why

Newborn babies in sunflower field

Buddhika Weerasinghe / Getty Image

Key Takeaways

  • Contrary to some predictions, birth rates declined in the United States and Europe during the pandemic.
  • Fear of COVID-19 and economic distress have led couples to postpone or reconsider their pregnancy plans.
  • Despite a decline in childbirths, doctors noted that aspiring parents are thinking more intently about their family planning.

Roseanna and Max Cameron met while they were at college in 2008. They got married a decade later, and in January 2020, they decided it was time to think about having their first child. 

“The push for kids definitely came from me,” Max says. “We were established and stable in our careers and our friends had started to get pregnant.”

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

As hospitals were filled with patients and vaccines were yet to be available, the couple halted their pregnancy plan. Their finances took a hit when Roseanna’s job turned into part-time, and they were suddenly unsure if they could afford having a baby financially and mentally. 

Some predicted a post-pandemic baby boom as many couples spent long periods of time at home. But the anxiety and stress that have arisen out of the pandemic may have dampened their intimacy.

Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a 4% drop in the birth rate in the United States in 2020. England and parts of Europe have seen a steeper decline.

Statistics for 2021 are speculative as of now, but a Brookings Institution analysis projected 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in the U.S. next year.

Frederick Friedman, Jr., MD, an associate professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has worked with expecting parents throughout the pandemic. He tells Verywell that Mount Sinai and “the majority of hospitals in New York City experienced about a 10% decline” in childbirths last year, and he expects another 10% drop in 2021.

He says that people don’t think “it’s the safest time to have children” right now, especially when anxiety is playing a role.

Why Did the Pandemic Create a Baby Bust?

In a small survey, women who decided to postpone their pregnancy during the pandemic cited concerns about changes in prenatal care and fear of the virus.

COVID-19 restrictions meant couples spent more cozy nights inside, but they could also be less pleasant for some.

A survey by the Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana found that 44% of people reported a decline in the quality of their sex life during the pandemic. Jo Nicholl, MBACP, a psychotherapist and couples counselor, explains that day-to-day life in the last 18 months may have left couples feeling cold between the sheets.

“Stress and worry is a libido killer. It’s so hard to get turned on if you’re worried about money, the kid’s homework, and your job,” Nicholl tells Verywell.

At the height of the pandemic, the U.S. unemployment rate jumped up to 14.7%, the worst since the Great Depression.

Even if couples were lucky enough to avoid the emotional and financial fallout of the pandemic, routine care like OB-GYN and annual physical visits took a backseat.

Like many hospital services and clinics, obstetric care adapted dramatically to serve patients’ needs. Healthcare providers embraced telehealth, shifting their in-person appointments to virtual visits.

Roseanna and Max were vaccinated in March, but they still felt it was risky to enter a medical setting then.

“To choose to have a child when we weren’t sure if I would be able to come to every scan felt hasty,” Max says. “If we’d known we could reach out to a specialist from the comfort of our sofa, we may have felt differently.”

What Do Declining Birth Rates Imply?

If a slight drop in birth rates associated with COVID-19 is short-lived, there’s no reason for concern, says Phillip Levine, PhD, an economics professor at Wellesley College. 

However, fertility rates in the U.S. have been steadily falling for over a decade. Analysts are not optimistic about a rebound even after the pandemic.

If the decline continues, Levine says, it could jeopardize “the labor market, the solvency of the Social Security system, and a broad array of other issues.”

Yalda Afshar, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA Health, tells Verywell that the dip in the birth rate isn’t necessarily a negative outcome. She has seen an increase in pregnancy intentions and planned pregnancies.

Prior to the pandemic, at least 45% of pregnancies in the U.S. were unintended every year. While the pandemic may have postponed some pregnancies, aspiring parents may have become more mindful of their family planning.

“We know that coming into a pregnancy planned is a better outcome for both parent and baby,” Afshar says. “I have had a lot more conversations about risks and benefits. It’s been inspiring to speak about research and the knowns and unknowns that parents are worried about.”

What This Means For You

While the COVID-19 pandemic may postpone some couples’ pregnancy plans, taking more time to evaluate the risks and benefits is going to ensure better health outcomes for both parents and children.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Aassve A, Cavalli N, Mencarini L, Plach S, Sanders S. Early assessment of the relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and births in high-income countries. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2021;118(36):e2105709118. doi:10.1073/pnas.2105709118

  3. Flynn AC, Kavanagh K, Smith AD, Poston L, White SL. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on pregnancy planning behaviorsWomens Health Rep (New Rochelle). 2021;2(1):71-77. doi:10.1089/whr.2021.0005

  4. Finer LB, Zolna MR. Declines in unintended pregnancy in the United States, 2008–2011. N Engl J Med. 2016;374(9):843–852. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa1506575