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U.S. Teen Birth Rate Hit Record Low in 2009: CDC

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Dec. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Teen births in the United States reached a record low in 2009, as births to teenagers fell 6 percent from the previous year to the lowest level seen in almost seven decades, health officials reported Tuesday.

The birth rate for 15- to 19-year-olds, which has declined 16 out of the past 18 years, dropped to 39.1 births per 1,000 teens in 2009, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"One of the biggest highlights is the continuing decline in teen births -- down to record lows," said report co-author, Brady Hamilton, a statistician at CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

The decline in teen pregnancy is largely because of a drop in vaginal intercourse, said Dr. Lawrence B. Friedman, a professor of pediatrics and director of the division of adolescent medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

"That doesn't mean decreases in sexual activity, but just alternate intimacies that teenagers are discovering or rediscovering," he said. "There is also increased use of effective contraception."

Total births declined for the second year in a row, with the number of births falling from 4,247,694 in 2008 to 4,131,019 in 2009. Early data from this year indicate the trend is continuing.

The CDC is reluctant to suggest causes for their findings, but Hamilton said the ailing economy may be partly responsible for the lower overall birth rate. Since more women are waiting longer to have babies that too is reflected in the declining birth rate, he said.

Factors such as education and career choices account for some of the delayed births, Hamilton said. "In addition, technology has allowed women to give birth later in life," he said.

Another expert agrees with Hamilton's analysis.

"People are getting pregnant later," said Dr. Leo B. Twiggs, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "And the birth rate is also falling due to the economic downturn."

The report -- from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics -- is based on data from more than 99 percent of the birth records from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Hamilton said.

Its other highlights include:

  • The fertility rate dropped for the second straight year, falling from 68.6 births per 1,000 women in 2008 to 66.7 in 2009.
  • The proportion of births to unmarried mothers increased to 41 percent of all births from 40.6 percent in 2008, but the total number of births to unmarried women fell for the first time since 1997.
  • The birth rate for women in their early 20s fell 7 percent last year, the largest drop since 1973. A decline was also noted for women in their late 20s and 30s.
  • The birth rate increased for women in their early 40s.
  • Preterm births dropped for the third straight year to less than 12.2 percent.
  • Cesarean deliveries rose to a record high of 32.9 percent in 2009, up from 32.3 a year earlier.
  • Low birth weight deliveries remained almost the same at less than 8.2 percent in 2009, down slightly from the record high of 8.3 in 2006.

Joyce A. Martin, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics and report co-author, said the drop in preterm births is encouraging.

"It's the third year in a row we have seen a decline, and it's fairly substantial," Martin said.

However, the increase in cesarean deliveries is "disappointing," she said, noting that the data doesn't distinguish between first-time cesarean deliveries and subsequent C-sections.

"There are so many women who have already had a cesarean, so once you have had a cesarean the chances are you will have another one," she said. "It's not clear from these data whether there has been a moderation or stabilization or decline in women having a first cesarean -- that would be very encouraging, but we don't have that information."

Reasons for the increase in cesarean deliveries include convenience -- women wanting deliveries on demand, said Dr. Salih Y. Yasin, vice chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Also, many abnormal deliveries, which previously were done vaginally, are now done by cesarean.

"Now, unless the conditions are ideal, many of those babies are delivered by C-section," he said. Also, older women and those undergoing in vitro fertilization have less tolerance for vaginal delivery and are therefore more likely to have a cesarean delivery, he said.

Liability is also a factor, he said, "so hospitals have shied away from letting women have vaginal deliveries."

More information

For more information on birth rates, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Brady Hamilton, Ph.D., statistician, Joyce A. Martin, M.P.H., epidemiologist, both U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Lawrence B. Friedman, M.D., professor of pediatrics, director, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Leo B. Twiggs, M.D., chairman, obstetrics and gynecology, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Salih Y. Yasin, M.D., vice chair, obstetrics and gynecology, associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology, all University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; Dec. 21, 2010, report, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC, Births: Preliminary Data for 2009

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