The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a number of major changes to the way we live, from hygiene, work and play to how we view our health care system. As of now, it’s not totally clear how lasting these effects will be — but experts in the reproductive health and fertility space are already crunching the numbers and say we’re very likely to see the effects of halted treatments long after certain parts of “normal” life resume. So, yeah, any jokes about a “coronavirus baby boom” are uncool, inaccurate and likely tone-deaf (we implore you to read a room!)
“The recommendations to halt fertility treatments and lower the number of pregnancies during the pandemic is important because we don’t yet know the impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women and their babies,” according to Dr. David Adamson, reproductive endocrinologist and CEO of ARC Fertility. And because there are so many unknowns about what it means to be pregnant and give birth during this pandemic.
“We especially don’t know what might happen if a woman in early pregnancy becomes infected with the novel coronavirus,” Adamson adds. “While the outcome might be okay, we don’t know if there might be severe illness in the mother because of her altered immune system, miscarriage or other pregnancy complications, and most importantly, we don’t know if there might be mild or even serious effects on the baby resulting in minor or major abnormalities.”
Looking at available data from 2018, ARC Fertility examined what the pause means for the number of patients missing fertility treatment cycles in the U.S. As seen in their infographic, they found that, on average, “3,554 babies will not be born for each week of the COVID-19 pandemic suspension.”
They note that in 2018 there were 5,370 fertility cycles performed per week in the US (leading to the birth of 74,590 babies) and that multiple treatment cycles “dramatically increase” the rate of successful pregnancies.
While they add that older individuals, people with a diminished ovarian reserve and patients with cancer could possibly be given clearance for an emergency IVF cycle, the majority of clinics are closed and the effects of a delay in treatment will likely be felt.
“Some patients will have their chances for their own biologic child reduced by the delay, and for them this is a tragic consequence of COVID-19 that must be added to the societal burden of this pandemic…While women undergoing fertility treatments like IVF will be forced to wait for a frozen embryo transfer vs undergoing a fresh transfer, their meaningful chances for a healthy baby with not be compromised. There are no clinically significant differences with frozen embryo transfers (FET), and there may even be some advantages, including slightly better pregnancy outcomes.”