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COVID-19 stalled young people's desire to become pregnant, study says

COVID-19's social and economic disruption of Americans' lives extended into reproductive health choices, temporarily sapping young adults' pre-pandemic level of interest in getting pregnant. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/db26e624fc1bbbf0a58d53f14467fcdf/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
COVID-19's social and economic disruption of Americans' lives extended into reproductive health choices, temporarily sapping young adults' pre-pandemic level of interest in getting pregnant. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

July 5 (UPI) -- COVID-19's social and economic disruption of Americans' lives extended into reproductive health choices, temporarily sapping young adults' pre-pandemic level of interest in getting pregnant, a new study says.

In the study published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open, a University of California-San Francisco-led research team described the pandemic's caseload surges in 2020 as being associated with "a significant short-term curtailing" of a trend in 2019 toward a greater desire for pregnancy, especially among people earlier in their reproductive lives.

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The researchers said that understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the U.S. population's desire to avoid pregnancy is needed to be able to properly interpret changes in the nation's pregnancy rates, birth rates and intervals, and abortion rates.

Moreover, they said that since disruptive events such as the pandemic can increase the desire to prevent or postpone pregnancy, "expanded contraceptive and abortion care models, such as pharmacy access, telemedicine and mail order, will be important to reproductive autonomy during future disruptions to medical care access."

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The study's lead author was Corinne Rocca, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UCSF's Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health.

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To date, surveys have broadly found that as many as half of respondents have had declining interest in pregnancy or have wanted to postpone it during the pandemic because of health risks, financial concerns, loss of income and a sense of uncertainty about the future.

However, these studies also have found smaller proportions of respondents reporting an increased desire for pregnancy because of the pandemic as a way to introduce change and positivity in their lives and recalibrate their priorities.

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Despite these findings, researchers cited scant evidence of how COVID-19 has affected pregnancy desires at the population level because of methodological limitations that didn't compare people's intentions pre-COVID to what they felt during the pandemic and failed to measure the full range of feelings that people have about pregnancy.

The cohort study involved 627 participants aged 15 to 34 years in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. They reported their pregnancy preferences at baseline and every three months for up to 18 months between March 2019 and March 2021.

All of the study's participants were sexually active but not pregnant or sterilized. Their mean age was just under 25 years; 51% identified as Latinx and nearly 30% as White.

The study measured people's preferences using a "Desire to Avoid Pregnancy" survey tool. While participants' scores initially increased in the summer of 2020 when cases of COVID rose, scores returned to the pre-pandemic declining trend when cases surged again in the southwestern United States in the fall of 2020.

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Researchers said this suggests that population-level changes in pregnancy preferences were short lived. By the fall 2020 caseload surge and it became clear that the pandemic would be a long-standing public health emergency, individuals "returned to their original trajectories" on pregnancy preferences.

The epidemiologists said this was consistent with fertility trends seen in reaction to other emergencies, wars or natural disasters, with short-term declines in fertility followed by rebounds.

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