RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Doctors were prepared for a baby boom — but got a baby bust instead. Local hospitals are reporting a sharp decrease in births during the pandemic.
According to provisional birth rate data, 2020 saw the lowest number of births since the late 1970’s. Both nationally and statewide, the birth rate declined for the sixth straight year.
8News spoke with one local mother, Shelly Bandas, who waited until she was almost 40 before deciding she was ready for a child. Baby Edwin now runs the show in the Bandas household. “We have a really good family life,” she said. However, the mom said a lot was considered before having Edwin at all.
For one, she was faced with hefty student loans that her parents’ generation never saw.
“Those amazing adventures that you give your kids, I just didn’t feel in my 20’s that I had the financial stability to do that,” she said.
Bandas said because of that, she waited until she was about 39 years old before deciding to have a child. “I ended up having a very healthy baby boy when I turned 40!”
Data shows us this “waiting” trend is not too new, and it’s just one reason for the declining birth rate, said Dr. Anna Baur at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital. “We have overall seen declining birthrates,” she said, “and that’s been true for the past six years in a row, but for decades, [we’ve seen] really a slow decrease.”
Statewide data from the Virginia Department of Health gives us a clearer look at that.
Before the pandemic from 2016 until 2020, the numbers show each new year, fewer and fewer babies have been born.
Data given to 8News by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association also shows a continuing decrease in birth rates when looking solely at babies born in Virginia hospitals.
The CDC’s current data for 2020 shows the trend continuing with only 94,391 babies born in Virginia last year. There was a 3% decrease in births from 2019 to 2020.
Dr. Baur said the decline is because of several factors, like easier access to birth control, teen pregnancies being way down and couples not feeling financially secure. She said there’s also a culture shift. Women are getting more opportunities at work and feeling like they have more of a choice. “I think it’s a very empowering change for women, to recognize that that’s something they can do on their own terms and their own timeline,” she said.
In March 2020, the pandemic forced couples inside together for months, which inspired the possibility of a baby boom. “We weren’t really which which direction things were gonna go,” said Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough, the medical director of the Children’s Hospital at VCU’s Mother-Infant unit.
However, in the Richmond area, that didn’t happen. In fact, the reverse did at the children’s hospital.
“For every one percent increase in unemployment, there is a one percent decrease in the annual birth rate,” Dr. Kimbrough said. She says 15 percent fewer babies were born at the hospital from Nov. 2020 to April 2021 compared to the same time period in 2019.
“Just knowing how much stress the pandemic has put on folks, with some of the financial concerns, some people have had to leave the workforce, I think it makes sense,” Dr. Kimbrough said.
IVF services were also halted for some time at several medical centers during the pandemic, which Dr. Kimbrough said contributes to the decline seen so far from November 2020 to April 2021 at the hospital. Women seeking help getting pregnant weren’t able to do so.
Kathryn Beaton worked at the midwifery inside St. Francis Medical Center during the pandemic. She told 8News that her colleagues are not experiencing a baby boom either.
The birth rate matters from an economic standpoint. “There are a number of different effects going on in the economy,” said VCU economics professor Leslie Stratton. Fewer kids being born means fewer people buying things, fewer people joining the workforce, going to schools, taking care of elders and paying into programs like social security.
“That is a major concern in the United States, in Japan, throughout Europe — the ability to support retirees,” she told 8News.
Experts like Stratton and Dr. Kimbrough said they can’t predict what will happen within the next few years and decades.
As the pandemic calms down, couples may decide now is the time to have kids.