Anecdotal health reports appear to have thrown a spanner in the works of theories that the recent lockdown which confined everyone except those on the front line and in essential services to their homes would result in an increase in birth rate.
On the contrary, Dr John Teo, a specialist in obstetrics, believes the movement control order (MCO), first implemented on March 18 to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country, will have the opposite effect.
Instead of a baby boom, he is expecting a baby bust.
In the first place, he said, many couples were in fact separated during the lockdown which, in its initial phase, saw restrictions on interstate travel.
It wasn’t until May 10, nearly two months into the MCO period, that spouses living apart in different states were allowed to meet.
He also noted reports of high anxiety levels in many families due to the lockdown which led to financial concerns and loss of jobs for scores of people.
“This is not the best way to boost fertility,” he told MalaysiaNow, adding that intimate relations between spouses best take place when couples are feeling calm and in a stress-free environment.
Previous reports had surmised that Malaysia would experience a spurt in birth rate within a year given the restrictions on movements mandated by the MCO.
The lockdown, which saw Malaysia’s borders and the majority of businesses closed, was supposed to end on March 31. However, it was extended several times until June 10 when what was termed the recovery phase of the MCO was put in place.
The RMCO was slated to end on Aug 31 but will now continue until year-end as reports of new Covid-19 cases persist.
Teo said economic problems coupled with the occurrence of natural disasters could cause families to rethink their plans for more children.
He gave the example of the US, where studies on the early effects of the pandemic found that up to 40% of women had decided to change their plans for more children.
However, he said any concrete data on the birth rate in relation to the MCO would probably be available only nine months to a year from now, once those who are pregnant have safely delivered.
He suggested that measures be taken to help couples with family planning, urging health authorities, government agencies and medical practitioners to play a role in the matter.
This includes ensuring access to a steady supply of birth control pills and shedding light on perceptions of using such methods.
“This will be key to achieving faster economic recovery and helping communities and families become stronger,” he said.
Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N Ganabaskaran agreed, saying a baby boom would be almost impossible as women were aware of their households’ economic situation.
He said the Covid-19 pandemic had tested not only the people’s finances but their family planning as well.
MalaysiaNow is attempting to determine from the health ministry the number of pregnant women registered at government and private hospitals since the MCO began.