The small 1% increase was a little rebound from 2020, the first year of the pandemic, which saw the largest one-year drop in births in the US in nearly 50 years.
But according to a government report released on Tuesday, there were still about 86,000 fewer births last year than in 2019.
“We still haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels,” said Dr. Denise Jamieson, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University School of Medicine.
Births in the US had been declining for more than a decade before COVID-19 hit, and “I expect we will continue to see small, modest declines,” she said.
Officials believe the slight increase in the past year reflects deliveries from pregnancies that were postponed during the pandemic’s uncertain early days. Deliveries fell a lot in January 2021, but have improved over the year, said Brady Hamilton of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much of the increase is observed in older mothers.
“These are births that have been postponed,” said Hamilton, lead author of the new report.
The report is based on a review of nearly all birth certificates issued last year.
Some key findings:
Nearly 3.7 million births were reported last year, up from about 3.6 million recorded in 2020.
Birth rates fell again for teens and women younger than 25, but rose by 3% for women in their early 30s, 5% for women in their late thirties, and 3% for women in their early forties.
Birth rates increased 1% for Hispanic women and 3% for white women. But it’s down 1% for Asian women, 3% for black women, and 4% for Native Americans and Alaskan Native women. Experts said this may reflect the epidemic’s most severe impact on the health and lives of some ethnic groups.
The United States was once among the few developed countries with a fertility rate that ensured each generation had enough children to replace itself – about 2.1 children per woman. But it was declining, and in 2020 it’s down to about 1.6, the lowest rate ever. It rose slightly last year to nearly 1.7.
The proportion of premature babies born at less than 37 weeks rose 4% to about 10.5%. It was the highest level since 2007.
The rate of premature births decreased slightly in 2020, and health officials are not sure why the increase is occurring. Older mothers are more likely to give birth prematurely, as are women with COVID-19, said CDC’s Joyce Martin, a co-author on the study.