London

Stress eating for two: we could be seeing the first signs of a pandemic baby boom

Are pickles and ice cream the next toilet paper? They could be if the same numbers of newly reported pregnancies from a southwestern Ontario family doctor's clinic are being seen across the country.

An Ontario doctor's office saw a surge of calls about pregnancies in the last three weeks

An Ontario doctor's office says they've seen a surge in the number of women calling about pregnancy tests and morning sickness in the last three weeks. (The Canadian Press)

Are pickles and ice cream the next toilet paper? They could be if the same numbers of newly reported pregnancies from an Ontario family doctor's clinic are being seen across the country. 

Dr. Daniel Pepe, who practices family medicine at the London Lambeth Family Health Organization in London, Ont., said he and his colleagues normally get one or two calls about morning sickness or pregnancy tests each month.

"In the last three weeks, we've had 11 new pregnancies come through," he said.

"We kind of think there might be a little bit of a baby boom. We don't know how big it is, but we've certainly noticed enough different people becoming pregnant. It could be a cluster or bit of an anomaly, it's just something I've noticed."

It seems weeks of government-imposed lockdowns that have shuttered businesses, disrupted supply chains and forced millions to work from home might have also brought us an unusual silver lining: a possible increase in the number of couples expecting a bundle of joy. 

Disasters don't usually end in babies, but this one's different

While disasters don't usually yield a spike in births, the coronavirus crisis isn't like other disasters, according to a Western University demographer. (Shutterstock / Nadia Cruzova)

Whether what's happening in one small corner of London, Ont. is also happening across the country, won't be truly clear for another nine months, but Michael Haan, a professor and social demographer at Western University, said the conditions are right, even if it might sound counterintuitive. 

"Typically disasters don't really yield a baby boom, but I think this one is a bit different than other disasters."

Haan gave the example of Hurricane Katrina, a monster Category 5 storm that laid waste to New Orleans in 2005, which killed more than 1,800 people and caused $125-billion dollars worth of damage. 

The storm, like the coronavirus, caused a lot of stress and anxiety, but unlike Katrina, the coronavirus crisis is keeping millions of people in a virtual state of house arrest. 

"Migration rates have plummeted," he said. "Nobody's allowed to go anywhere, so what we see is this lockdown. Everyone is locked in their homes and they're spending a lot more time together and what do people do when they spend time together? They make babies."

Sales of booze, contraceptives, pregnancy tests all up

Sales of pregnancy tests rose by 10 per cent after the pandemic was declared in Canada, according to StatsCan data. (Shutterstock)

There is other evidence that Canadians have been getting frisky during the pandemic. Statistics Canada has already reported a number of changes in Canadian buying habits since we started staying at home.

Eleven weeks ago, the country saw a 70 per cent spike in booze sales, a 40 per cent growth in the sales of contraceptives and lube, plus a 10 per cent increase in the sale of pregnancy tests. 

So what makes a couple want to have a baby in the worst pandemic Canada has faced in the last century?

Haan said the answer is likely they haven't experienced the illness first hand or don't know anyone who has because the COVID-19 infection rate in Canada as of Wednesday was about 430 uninfected people for every one person who is. 

Plus, he said, almost since the start of the pandemic, federal and provincial governments have been topping up wages, deferring taxes and trying to find ways to mend an economy battered by the virus. 

"So the anxiety that people are seeing is probably short-term and they expect life to return to normal or whatever normal is going to look like a few months down the road."

Whether we ever get back to normal is anyone's guess, but nine months down the road, we will know one thing: whether what Dr. Daniel Pepe and his colleagues are seeing at their London clinic are an anomaly or part of a greater trend. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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