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Pandemic Pregnancies - Is there a potential for a baby boom in 2021?

Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 6:30 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2021 at 10:29 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A baby boom in 2021?

It took no time at all for the jokes to start after many states issued stay-at-home orders early last year. Flash forward about nine months later and if you were one of the many that though it would happen, well, the jokes on you. Instead, many are predicting a so-called “baby bust.”

Several surveys are showing fewer people are planning pregnancies because of the public health crisis and instability of the economy. One from the Brookings Institute is estimating up to a half million fewer children in 2021. This is a trend the Wisconsin Hospital Association has been tracking since 2007.

According to Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center Data, births in the state have...
According to Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center Data, births in the state have been gradually declining from a 2007 peak.(Wisconsin Hosptial Association Information Center Data)

Meet the Dobsons

Ellen and Justin Dobson are expecting their first child any day now. At the time of the interview with NBC15, Ellen was 38 weeks pregnant.

“Since this is my first child, almost everything feels like a surprise,” said Dobson.

What wasn’t a surprise was getting pregnant. She said the couple was married in a small ceremony in Oct. 2019 and had a family celebration in Jan. 2021. Because they are in their late 30s, Dobson said they didn’t want to waste anytime growing their family.

“So we started the New Year 2020 trying and luckily everything went smoothly as the pregnancy goes, but of course it happened – we basically conceived about a month after COVID,” said Dobson.

Right now, the couple is counting down the days until they get to meet their little girl.

Ellen Dobson has spent her entire pregnancy learning to navigate COVID-19 safety protocols. ...
Ellen Dobson has spent her entire pregnancy learning to navigate COVID-19 safety protocols. Her daughter is due in Jan. 2021.(Ellen Dobson)

“You have that excitement, but also stress,” she said. “You are constantly worried about he health of your baby anyway – right – in normal circumstances. And then you throw COVID on top of it.”

Dobson said her husband thankfully was able to attend most of the early prenatal check-ups; however, the last one he attended was the 20 week ultrasound.

“I had to start going alone,” said Dobson. “But you know, we just have to do it. We have to keep the nurses and doctors safe. We have to keep ourselves safe.”

Getting Creative to Share the News

While many took to social media with playful birth announcements like, “We didn’t social distance,” Dobson said she and her husband had to get creative to share the news with their family. It had been months since she had the chance to hug her family, so in July when she entered her second trimester, she rented a big, blowup bear costume and told her family she had a surprise.

“I went to their house wearing this giant inflatable bear suit and told them I could hug them,” said Dobson. “At that point it had been a few months, so my mom was so excited we hugged each other.”

Of course that wasn’t the only surprise.

“I told them we are expecting a baby girl,” said Dobson.

While looking back on how she told her family, she said it probably wasn’t the smartest idea knowing now what we do about COVID-19; however, that moment is one she is so thankful for.

Changing Care for Pregnant Women and their Babies

Over the last nine months, the care for pregnant women has evolved as doctors and nurses continue to learn more about the virus. Two local doctors who deliver babies at the two major hospitals in Madison gave a look at what it’s like care for mom and baby.

Dr. Igor Iruretagoyena is a maternal-fetal medicine doctor who works with high-risk pregnancies at Unity-Point Health Meriter. He’s been delivering babies for 17 years and has been a high-risk doctor for almost 10 years. While many women have questions when it comes to labor and delivery, he said most questions revolved around COVID-19 protocols.

“Many women were asking about safety of being in the hospital thinking that the hospital is where most sick people are going to be,” said Dr. Iruretagoyena. “Our message has been very consistent from the get-go as much as we can to make the hospital a safe environment. It has proven to be a safe environment like most of the hospitals.”

Dr. Jennifer Meyer-Carper has heard similar concerns in her clinic. She’s been an OBGYN for 10 years and has been with SSM Health for five years.

“Sometimes I feel like that ends up dominating the conversations of just dealing with those logics around COVID restrictions that we are not focused as much as we should on the birth in general – the traditional part of it,” said Dr. Meyer-Carper.

At both Unity-Point Health Meriter and St. Mary’s, everyone is tested for COVID-19 when admitted to the hospital. Even if the mother tests positive for COVID, doctors no longer separate the mom and baby.

“We truly believe obviously the best thing is to have a mom and baby stay together,” said Dr. Iruretagoyena. “We know the data we have shows that there is very little transmission [of COVID-19].”

Mothers are encouraged to wear masks while in the hospital – even during labor. However, doctors are understanding and know women may need a break from the mask during that strenuous time.

Another thing that has been common, more women asking for early discharges. Typically for a vaginal birth, the stay in the hospital is two days, and for a cesarean it’s three days. However, during the peak of the pandemic, Dr. Iruretagoyena said women were requesting 24-48 hour discharges. Over at St. Mary’s, Dr. Meyer-Carper said it varied from patient to patient. She said while some are still requesting to leave early, medical providers are still planning to have them stay the entire time.

During the height of the pandemic, many women were asking to go home sooner than normal.
During the height of the pandemic, many women were asking to go home sooner than normal.(NBC15)
During the height of the pandemic, many women were asking to go home sooner than normal.
During the height of the pandemic, many women were asking to go home sooner than normal.(NBC15)

When it comes to a baby boom, both doctors said they aren’t sure if they will see a spike, but they do tell me births are seasonal with the early summer months being the busiest for delivers.

“That correlates with wintertime and people staying in close proximity indoors,” laughed Dr. Iruretagoyena. “So if we follow that logic there is a possibility that may be true. Now having said that, I think there was still a lot of people concerned about the circumstance.”

Dr. Meyer-Carper agrees. “Some night’s I think it’s the full moon that bringing people in,” she laughed. “I just don’t know.”

Looking ahead to the future, both doctors believe telemedicine will continue even once things return to “normal” after the pandemic.

“It’s kinda forced us to be more creative and flexible,” said Dr. Meyer-Carper. “Those are things that will continue to help us to innovate and figuring out ways we can provide care in any circumstance.”

To read more on what the COVID protocols are for Meriter and St. Mary’s, click on the respective hospital.

Bringing home baby

While isolation will continue for growing families, like the Dobsons, they agree it’s for the safety of the newborn, the family, and even the community. There will be no visitors at the hospital and no welcome home celebration. Those first few days, weeks and maybe months will be just parents and baby.

“It’s just another silver lining,” said Dobson. “We can really just focus on our family and it will be a very special time as well.”

Virtual Support

Dobson said she has found the support she’s needed through this pregnancy, by connecting with other women online. She’s been reading countless baby blogs to try and learn what her experience may be like from other women who are experiencing labor and delivery during a pandemic.

“I’ve really found that my support network online – especially through Meriter – connecting other pregnant women with each other – that has been extremely helpful.”

Both Meriter and St. Mary’s offer online support. Click the respective hospital to learn more.

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