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How birth rates changed last year

Every year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases statistics about the previous year’s births. The report for 2014 was just released, and below are some of the more interesting findings for this past year:

  • Overall, the birth rate increased by 1 percent. This is the first time the birth rate has increased since 2007!
  • Births by teen moms dropped quite a lot — by 9 percent. Teen births continue to be at an all-time low.
  • Women in their 20s are at record lows when it comes to giving birth.
  • Women giving birth in their 30s and 40s actually increased in 2014, meaning more women are waiting longer to start their families.
  • C-sections decreased by 2 percent.
  • The preterm birth rate is again at a historic low rate of 9.6 percent.

That’s a lot of numbers, but what does it all mean? And does it mean anything? I think so.

As the economy improves, so do our sex lives? It’s no secret that the downturn of the economy since 2007 was at least partially responsible for the reduction in births in the ensuing years. This makes sense — it’s hard to think about expanding your family when your bank account is strapped. However, since this is only one year’s worth of data, it’s hard to say if this increase in births is just a blip in an overall trend or if over the next few years more families will expand as the job market continues to improve.

Teens are paying attention. We know that the MTV programs 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, both of which portray teen pregnancy as anything but glamorous, have been directly responsible for a huge portion of the drop in teen births. Add in the fact that more teenagers are using more reliable forms of birth control (such as IUDs) and are being exposed to factual sex education, and what do we see, but exactly what we’d expect: fewer babies being born to moms who are still kids themselves. 

First-time moms are aging — is this good or bad? More women are waiting to start families until they finish school or have an established career. I think this can be good (more women are getting better educations and securing better-paying jobs), but it can also have some potential pitfalls (we know that fertility declines as you age, and risks for certain birth defects and pregnancy complications increase as you get older, especially after age 35). So what’s the best age to have a baby? Oh, if only it were that simple! I think women should take away the fact that it’s OK to not have your family of three by the time you hit 30, but keep in mind that waiting until 40 or 45 may mean some extra hurdles. Do what is best for you, talk to your partner and doctor, and realize you are not alone if you are in your 20s and childless!

We doctors may be doing less (and that’s a good thing). We are likely seeing a drop in the preterm birth rate and C-section rate because many hospitals are being more strict about avoiding elective deliveries before 39 weeks. This is wonderful news, since both early babies and C-sections are not without their risks, complications, and increased costs. Of course we have room to do better, but these are great starts.

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Bundoo OB/GYN

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon. She primarily works on labor and delivery and has recently been certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

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