What to do if COVID-19 has paused your fertility treatments

If the pandemic has put your family planning on hold, new guidelines offer hope as states begin to reopen.
Couple sitting together on couch

Pregnancy can be a joyful time for expectant parents. But each year, about 13% of United States women ages 15 to 49 have a hard time getting pregnant or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Women older than age 35 face particular challenges as fertility tends to decline in their mid-30s. They also experience a higher risk of miscarriage and underlying medical conditions.

Right now, there’s another hurdle. The COVID-19 outbreak is making an already-uncertain time for women trying to get pregnant even harder, due in part to new guidelines that are disrupting fertility treatments. If you’re actively trying to expand your family, or soon will be, we can help you understand how the pandemic may affect your plans and what you can expect in the months ahead.

Your fertility over 35

A woman’s fertility declines as she ages, with the decline accelerating after age 35. A healthy, fertile 30-year-old has a 20% chance of becoming pregnant on the first try each month. That number drops to 5% for a healthy 40-year-old woman.

Aging also results in infertility, increasing the risk of medical conditions. This includes uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and genetic abnormalities of a woman’s remaining eggs, which can make them less viable.

Many women turn to infertility treatments to increase their chances of becoming pregnant. Two of the most common are intrauterine insemination (IUI), which involves inserting sperm inside the uterus to enable fertilization, and in-vitro fertilization (IVF), in which an egg is fertilized with sperm in a lab, and the embryo is then transferred to the uterus.

How COVID-19 is affecting fertility treatments

New guidelines recently issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) are making it harder for some to undergo these fertility treatments. When stay-at-home orders went into effect across much of the country, the ASRM advised its 8,000 members – among them, doctors and other healthcare providers – to avoid starting new treatment cycles of IVF, IUI, ovulation induction (which uses hormone therapy to stimulate egg development and release), and egg freezing in order to reduce the risk of viral airborne transmission, and avoid burdening local healthcare systems. That’s because fertility treatments require frequent doctor visits and monitoring.

Now, as some areas begin loosening their stay-at-home restrictions, the ASRM is asking its members to follow these rules before resuming treatment:

  • Regions in which healthcare providers practice must see a sustained reduction in COVID-19 cases in their area, ideally over the course of 14 days.
  • Their local hospitals must be able to treat all patients safely without resorting to crisis standards of care.
  • Members must provide certified education and staff training, a documented risk mitigation strategy for the clinic or office, and a documented risk mitigation plan for each procedure.

Once members have met these conditions, they may begin to consider resuming tests and treatments. As the country’s COVID-19 response evolves, it’s a good idea to check the ASRM website for updates.

Seek advice from your doctor

If you were hoping to begin – or are in the midst of – treatment, talk to your doctor about next steps. They can advise you on what you can do now to prepare for your treatment to resume.

This can be deeply upsetting for those planning their families or eager to begin doing so. After all, time is crucial when attempting to start a family.

Expectant mothers should also talk to their doctors, as they have a higher risk of severe illness if they become infected with COVID-19. This also applies to other viral respiratory infections, like the flu, according to the CDC. High fevers in pregnancy can result in birth defects, especially if these fevers occur during the first trimester. This means that pregnant women should be especially diligent about handwashing, social distancing, and limiting trips outside the home. In addition to these precautions, you should contact your delivery hospital and your your health team regularly to get the most up-to-date CDC guidelines for you and your baby. You can keep yourself informed by checking the CDC website for updates.

It’s a challenging time for a number of reasons – but especially when it comes to the health and safety of yourself, your baby, and your family. Blue Shield of California is here to offer you support, as well as the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 and its impact on your family’s health.

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