US births rose last year, but still less than before the pandemic

NEW YORK — The US birth rate rose last year, but the number of babies born was still lower than before the coronavirus pandemic.

The small 1 percent increase was a bit of a rebound since 2020, the first year of the pandemic, which witnessed the biggest one-year drop in U.S. births in nearly 50 years.

But there were still about 86,000 fewer births last year than in 2019, according to a government report released Tuesday.

“We’re still not going back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Dr. Denise Jamieson, chair of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine.

U.S. birth rates had been declining for more than a decade before COVID-19 hit, and “I would expect to continue to see small, modest declines,” she said.

Officials believe last year’s increase is due to births from pregnancies that were delayed during the uncertain early days of the pandemic. Deliveries were much lower in January 2021 but improved as the year progressed, said Brady Hamilton of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much of the increase was seen in older mothers.

“These are births that have been delayed,” said Hamilton, lead author of the new report.

The report is based on an overview of almost all birth certificates issued last year.

Some of the key findings:

– Nearly 3.7 million births were reported last year, compared to the approximately 3.6 million in 2020.

Birth rates fell again for teens and for women under 25, but increased by 3 percent for women in their early 30s, 5 percent for women in their late 30s and 3 percent for women in their early 40s.

— Birth rates increased by 1 percent for Hispanic women and 3 percent for white women. But they dropped 1 percent for Asian women, 3 percent for Black women and 4 percent for Native American and Alaska Native women. That may reflect the wider impact of the pandemic on the health and lives of some racial groups, experts said.

The US was once one of the few developed countries with a fertility rate that ensured that each generation had enough children to replace itself – about 2.1 children per woman. But it’s shifting, dropping to about 1.6 in 2020, its lowest rate ever. Last year it rose slightly to almost 1.7.

– The percentage of babies born small and premature – at less than 37 weeks – increased by 4 percent to about 10.5 percent. It was the highest since 2007.

The preterm birth rate had fallen slightly in 2020 and health officials aren’t sure why the rise happened. But older mothers are more likely to have preterm births, as are women infected with COVID-19, said Joyce Martin of the CDC, a co-author of the study.