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Of the many plans the COVID-19 pandemic has thwarted—weddings, long-anticipated vacations, sporting events, to name a few—one of the most confusing and often heartbreaking events people have been forced "reschedule" in recent weeks revolves around conception.
While women who are currently pregnant are going through their own versions of heightened anxiety as they take extra precautions, those who haven't yet conceived are left scratching their heads. Most doctors have put a sudden end to expensive, physically and emotionally draining fertility treatments like IVF and IUI, and those who are trying to conceive naturally are left wondering if they should put off their plans for a few months, or even years.
We chatted with two doctors to get their take on whether or not it's a good idea to try to get pregnant during such a medically uncertain time. Here's what they had to say.
Uncertainty in the Time of Coronavirus
Unfortunately, doctors have a pretty frustrating—albeit truthful—response to most questions surrounding COVID-19: "we don't really know." And this same response applies to questions around conception and pregnancy.
"At this time, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has not recommended universal contraception," says Dr. Brian Levine, founding partner and practice director of CCRM Fertility New York. "This is because there is no information that links an active COVID-19 infection with an adverse pregnancy outcome. Given how new this pandemic is, and the lack of data surrounding this pandemic, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has issued a statement about being cautious before proceeding with intentionally getting someone pregnant with IVF or assisted reproductive technologies."
Meet the Expert
Brian A. Levine, M.D., is the founding partner and practice director of CCRM New York. He is board-certified in both reproductive endocrinology and infertility and obstetrics and gynecology. Dr. Levine attended New York University School of Medicine where he currently serves as a member of NYU’s Board of Trustees, completed his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at NewYork Presbyterian Hospital – Columbia University Medical Center and then completed his fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at NewYork Presbyterian Hospital – Weill Cornell Medical College.
In other words, there's no strong evidence to support the idea that COVID-19 could have a negative impact on pregnant women, a growing fetus, or increase the risk of miscarriage just yet. But because viruses and fevers typically do cause complications for pregnant women, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
OB-GYN Mary Jane Minkin's final word? "Stay tuned. It's ever-changing."
Why Fertility Treatments Are Getting Canceled
For women who have put absurd amounts of time and money into fertility treatments, having doctors put a hard and fast stop to their treatments can feel especially painful. As Dr. Levine explains it, the entire medical community is acting of an "abundance of caution" at this point.
"Most of American medicine is really shutting down as we deal with the Coronavirus," Dr. Minkin adds. "Everyone is trying to shunt supplies and caregivers to the front lines. For example, at our hospital (Yale New Haven) our Reproductive Endocrinology young specialists who are not far out from their basic obstetrical training are being recruited to go back to doing deliveries. And that's just one example."
She adds that the sterile supplies used for IVF are being repurposed to help care for Coronavirus victims. "Although it's obviously difficult for women in the midst of fertility evaluations and therapies, we need to triage our providers to do emergent care. We all hope to get back to normal as soon as possible."
If You Can Afford to, You Should Probably Wait
So, what's the final word on whether or not you should delay your conception plans? As Dr. Levine noted, there's been no recommendation for universal birth control just yet. But if you can afford to err on the side of caution, you likely should.
"If someone is 42 years old and trying to conceive, she may say she doesn't have the time to wait a potentially long amount of time," says Dr. Minkin. "But if someone is say 30 years old (a youngster!), why add stress to your life? Perhaps waiting a few months wouldn't be the worst idea. Hopefully by then, things will be a lot better, and we'll have a lot more information for you."
She adds that waiting doesn't mean you need to stop planning. "For example, if you have some health habits that aren't great for pregnancy, like smoking, drinking, or taking drugs, why not work on reducing them now while you're waiting? And you can schedule a virtual 'planning to conceive' visit with your gyn provider to see if there are any genetic tests you might want to think about, or to change medications."
There's a mental health aspect to consider, too: If getting pregnant during such an uncertain time will add an extra layer to the anxiety that already comes with such a big life change, it may be worth it to wait a bit.
Long story short, there's no right or wrong way to approach conception right now—because truth be told, these are uncharted waters. So use your best judgement, remember to practice social distancing, and wash your hands.