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U.S. Birth Rates on the Rise

Gov't. survey finds more teens say 'no' to motherhood

TUESDAY, Feb. 12, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Women in the United States are giving birth to more children than at any time in almost three decades, latest federal figures show.

The birth rate increased for the third year in a row in 2000, even though fewer teens had babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than 4 million babies were born in the United States in 2000, a 3 percent increase over the previous year. At the same time, the teen birth rate fell 2 percent in 2000 to a record low, down 22 percent since 1991, the report says.

The statistics are contained in the CDC report "Births: Final Data for 2000," which was released today.

In 2000, the average number of children born to women over a lifetime was 2.1. That number is considered necessary for the population to sustain itself at current levels. During the 1970s and 1980s, women averaged fewer than two children.

Federal officials say one explanation for the upswing in childbearing could be that people have been better off financially in recent years.

"Booming economies in the past have been associated with increased fertility," says Joyce Martin, one of the study's authors and an epidemiologist with the CDC's Center for Health Statistics.

The rise in fertility rates was fairly constant across racial lines, according to the study. The sole exception was Hispanic women, who averaged 3.1 children over their lifetime. These higher birth rates could be what's pushing up the overall birth rate, suggests Dr. Cathey Falvo, program director of international and public health at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y.

The study also found that:

  • More than one-third of all births (33.2 percent) were to unmarried women, up slightly (0.2 percent) from the year before. It's a figure that concerns Falvo. "Kids and parents do better when there are two adults in the house, not one," she says.
  • The rate of smoking during pregnancy was down to 12.2 percent in 2000, a 37 percent decline from 1989.
  • The preterm birth rate went down slightly in 2000, from 11.8 to 11.6 percent, while the number of low birth weight babies (7.6 percent) stayed the same. Martin says the CDC would like to see both sets of numbers come down even further.
  • The number of twins born was up for 2000, and is a whopping 55 percent higher than in 1980. But the rate of triplets and "higher multiple births" was down for the second year in a row, after rising more than five-fold from 1980-98. Martin says that may reflect recommendations to change assisted reproductive technologies, like in-vitro fertilization, to reduce the number of embryos implanted.
  • Caesarean section deliveries were up again, for the fourth year in a row, to almost 23 percent of all births. "The rise in C-section rates is really quite disturbing," says Falvo. She says the reasons for the increase aren't clear, but may be linked to older mothers giving birth. Martin says part of the increase may be due to several studies that suggested a vaginal birth after a C-section was risky for some women.

What to Do: If you'd like information on preparing for pregnancy, go to Medem.com, which features articles from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Once you're pregnant, Epregnancy offers this information on labor and delivery.

SOURCES: Interviews with Joyce Martin, M.P.H., epidemiologist, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.; Cathey Falvo, M.D., program director, international and public health, New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY.; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, "Births: Final Data for 2000"
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