Birth dearth to worsen as Covid scares future moms

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Birth dearth to worsen as Covid scares future moms

Visitors to a baby fair line up at Coex in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, in April 2019, before the Covid-19 paralyzed the country. Many baby fairs that were scheduled in 2020 have been canceled due to the pandemic. [NEWS1]

Visitors to a baby fair line up at Coex in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, in April 2019, before the Covid-19 paralyzed the country. Many baby fairs that were scheduled in 2020 have been canceled due to the pandemic. [NEWS1]

 
A 38-year-old woman who gave birth on Jan. 2 decided to forgo going to a postpartum care center due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
 
“I heard families can’t even visit me even if I am in a postpartum care center, so I had no other choice but to cancel the plan,” she said. “Instead, my husband will take parental leave, and my mom and mother-in-law will stay at my home.”
 
According to the woman, she suffered a lot last year while she was pregnant. She couldn't even visit the maternity clinic as much as she should have because of concerns over the virus.  
 
In 2020, Korea's registered population fell for the first time ever. But the decline is likely to accelerate this year as many couples have been delaying weddings and putting off having children.  
 
“Korea marked its first-ever annual population decline last year, but the real problem is this year,” said Kim Sang-bong, an economics professor at Hansung University. “As more couples delay marriage and more married couples decide to delay and even cancel their plans for having babies, the birth rate of the country is expected to decrease further.”
 
Expectant mothers are in even more panic after the outbreak of a coronavirus variant. Since it is known that the virus variant spreads more quickly and easily to babies and children, expectant mothers are concerned about giving birth.
 
“With many baby fairs canceled, I have to purchase all the necessary products online. I also feel uncomfortable hiring a birth assistant,” Choi Sun, a 34-year-old pregnant woman, said. “Although many people actually want to have babies, they've been suffering many inconveniences.”
 
“As the coronavirus outbreak causes an unstable economic situation and anxiety, many people in their 20s and 30s have been delaying and even canceling their plans for marriage and giving birth," a recent Bank of Korea report noted.  
 
“Considering the decline in the number of new marriages and growing number of couples who have been delaying their plans for having babies, the low birth rate issue is expected to intensify at least two years until 2022,” said Kim Min-sik, head of the macro fiscal team at Bank of Korea and the author of the report.
 
Korea is not the only country in which pregnant women are suffering. The United States and many European countries don't have any clear guidelines on whether to vaccinate people who are currently pregnant and those who just gave birth.
 
“One thing that the provider did mention is that it is worse to have Covid than to have the vaccine,” Yadira Rivas, a nurse in Virginia who is currently eight months pregnant, told the Washington Post on Jan. 1.
 
But with no safety data available for pregnant women, Rivas decided to not get vaccinated at the moment due to concerns about how it might affect her baby.
 
“Just to stay safe,” she said.
 
“The same conundrum faces millions of women across the country, among them many health care workers like Rivas who are being offered vaccines not yet tested on pregnant or lactating women,” the Washington Post noted.
 
Some argue that the government should pay more attention to the interests of pregnant women.
 
“As the low birth rate issue is closely linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government must come up with thorough preventive measures for people who are pregnant and those who are about to give birth,” said Jung Jae-hoon, who teaches social welfare at Seoul Women’s University. The government "should try harder to relieve the anxiety of pregnant women by delivering them the correct information about Covid-19, such as about vertical transmission between mom and babies, vaccines and the safety of postpartum care centers.”
 
“The temporary extension of parental leave for fathers is essential so that pregnant women can receive good care after giving birth,” Jung added.
 
BY KIM KI-HWAN, CHEA SARAH   [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]       

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