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US Births Continue to Fall, Fertility Rate Hits Record Low

The number of babies born in the U.S. hit the lowest level in more than three decades in 2019, continuing a five-year downward trend, according to a new federal report.

The report on provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates notable birth and population measures reached record lows in 2019. American women, for example, are now projected to have about 1.71 children over their lifetimes – down 1% from 2018 and below the rate of 2.1 needed to exactly replace a generation.

"The (total fertility) rate has generally been below replacement since 1971 and consistently below replacement since 2007," the report says.

In all, the U.S. saw nearly 3.75 million births last year, down 1% from 2018 and the lowest level since 1985, according to the CDC. Births fell among women of most races, though they rose 3% for women who were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Births remained largely level for Hispanic women.

The U.S. birth rate – which measures the number of births per 1,000 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 in a given year – sat at 58.2 in 2019 for another record low, according to the report. Its continual decline has been driven in part by a 73% plummet in the teen birth rate since 1991. That rate fell another 5% in 2019, reaching 16.6 per 1,000, the report notes.

Birth rates also fell for women in their 20s and early 30s in 2019, but rose for women in their early 40s.

"The rate for (women 40 to 44 years old) has risen almost continuously since 1985 by an average of 3% per year," the report says.

Trends in birth outcomes also continued in 2019: The preterm birth rate rose for the fifth year in a row, reaching 10.23%, while the cesarean section rate fell to 31.7% from 31.9%. The low-risk C-section rate – measuring C-sections among women giving birth for the first time to a single baby, born after reaching term and in the head-first position – fell to 25.6% from 25.9%. The federal government's Healthy People goals say the low-risk C-section rate should be no more than 24.7% by 2020, and there's significant variation in C-section rates at the state and county levels.

The data for 2019 is not final, and it's unclear whether these trends will continue in 2020 as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, which has interrupted health care for millions of people and brought much of American life to a standstill. Maternal health researchers and advocates have warned, however, that the crisis could affect pregnancy and birth outcomes.

Modeling recently published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, for example, projected an uptick in the rate of women who will die in childbirth this year as a direct result of the pandemic. The U.S. already has a high maternal mortality rate, with substantial racial disparities.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also announced Tuesday it is launching a study to track whether rates of C-sections and pregnancy-related complications increase due to changes to health care during the pandemic.

Source: US News


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