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US births continue to decline but ‘may be returning to pre-pandemic levels,’ preliminary CDC data suggests

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By Jacqueline Howard, CNN

The overall number of babies born in the United States continues to follow a downward trend but “may be returning to pre-pandemic levels” now, a new federal report suggests.

US births dropped 2% in the first half of 2021 compared with the year prior, according to the new National Center for Health Statistics report, released Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same decline in births was observed for the first half of 2020, and births fell 5% in the second half of 2020.

But when examining the data by month, “you certainly start to see the decline lessen as you go through 2021, and in fact, for the last few months of that first half of 2021, there’s actually an increase compared to that month for the prior year,” Brady Hamilton, a statistician at NCHS and an author of the new report, told CNN.

NCHS researchers found that during the first half of 2021, compared with the same period in 2020, the nation’s number of births declined 9% in January and 2% in February but then rose non-significantly by less than 1% in March and 1% in April, declined again by 1% in May and rose again by 3% in June.

The report included data on US birth records from January 2019 through June 2021, received and processed by the National Center for Health Statistics as of September 21, 2021. The preliminary data for 2021 was based on 99.92% of all birth records received.

“We’re certainly very much looking forward to having the full data set for 2021 so that we can look to see what happens as you go into July through December,” Hamilton said.

Births declined for all races in the first half of 2021, but there were some differences across states, according to the new report.

Births fell in 19 states and Washington, DC, while they increased in four states: Connecticut, Idaho, Tennessee and New Hampshire, according to the data. Declines in an additional 17 states were not significant, nine states reported increases that were not significant, and state-level data for Alaska was not shown in the report. Regionally, the largest declines were seen in New Mexico at 5% and Washington, DC, at 9%.

The overall decrease in the number of US births is part of an ongoing trend, as births declined from 2015 to 2019, but “the sharp decline in births in January and more moderate decline in February of 2021 followed by generally increasing trends beginning in March, are not consistent with those of recent years in which changes in births by month were more moderate,” NCHS researchers wrote in the report.

“This difference between patterns seen for the first 6 months of 2021 and earlier years suggests that the magnitude of the downward trend seen in the second half of 2020 and January of 2021 may have begun to wane and declines in the number of births may be returning to pre-pandemic levels,” the researchers wrote. “However, ongoing evaluation of trends in births by month will continue to determine whether the changes observed for the first half of 2021 will continue into the second half of the year.”

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