Teen Birth Rate Is at Record Low

Study Also Shows C-Section Rates May Be Dropping

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 17, 2011 -- The U.S. teen birth rate is the lowest in nearly seven decades.

Reality TV shows such as 16 and Pregnant and high-profile teen moms have put teen motherhood in the media spotlight lately. Some public health experts worried that this could be glamorizing teen pregnancy and motherhood.

But the rate of teen births in the U.S. has declined for the past three years.

In 2010, there were 34.3 births for every 1,000 teens. That's a 9% drop from 2009. It's the lowest rate recorded in the seven decades that researchers have been tracking teen births.

The new data are based on a preliminary analysis of nearly all U.S. birth certificates from 2010 by the CDC's National Center of Health Statistics.

The study did not look at why these rates may be declining. But experts tell WebMD that it could be the result of better sex education in schools.

C-Section Rates on the Decline

C-sections also seem to be declining -- or at least not increasing for the first time in more than 10 years. In 2010, the C-section rate was 32.8%, down from 32.9% in 2009, the new report shows.

Study researcher Joyce Martin, MPH, says this drop -- while small -- is important. "The rate has been going up strongly and suddenly for some time, so this does suggest that the large increase we have been seeing may be at an end."

Mitchell Maiman, MD, the chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, agrees.

"It is encouraging that the trend has been halted," he says. "There needs to be a very strict indication for induction of labor and a C-section delivery, as well as vigorous efforts to support vaginal birth after C-section."

"The risk to the mom is so much higher with C-sections than for vaginal delivery. And the risk is not just seen with the first C-section, but the third or fourth," Maiman tells WebMD.

Many women are told that they can't have a vaginal delivery if they have a history of C-section, but natural delivery is safe in many cases, he says.

"It's buy now, pay later," says Burton Rochelson, MD. He is the chief of maternal/fetal medicine at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y. "With any measure, the complications related to a C-section compared to vaginal delivery is much higher."

"Unless there is a medical need for C-section, vaginal delivery is safer for the baby," Rochelson says.

Rates of Preterm Births

There's some more encouraging news from the report. The rate of preterm births declined for the fourth year in a row. In 2010, fewer than 12% of all births were preterm. That's a 6% drop from 2009 and the first time the rate has dipped that low in nearly a decade, according to a new March of Dimes report.

Babies who are born before 37 weeks can face serious health problems, including breathing issues.

"The dip in the preterm births is very encouraging," Rochelson says. This may be a result of better nutrition and prenatal care, he says.

Also according to the 2010 numbers:

  • Birth rates fell among women in their early 20s through their 30s.
  • Birth rates rose by 2% among women in their early 40s. The birth rate among women aged 40 to 44 is now the highest it has been since 1967. "This may continue to rise," Rochelson predicts.


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SOURCES:Joyce Martin, MPH, National Center of Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.Burton Rochelson, MD, chief, maternal/fetal medicine, North Shore-LIJ Health System, Manhasset, N.Y.Mitchell Maiman, MD, chairman, obstetrics and gynecology, Staten Island University Hospital, N.Y.National Vital Statistics Reports, 2011.March of Dimes. ©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.