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Local birth rates going up

By Ed Brock

First-time mother Stacy Christian's birth experience is a cross section of national trends.

At 31, Jonesboro resident Christian is in the shrinking category of women who are having babies in their peak childbearing ages. Birth rates for older women between the ages of 35 to 44 are up, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We have a lot of older moms," said Elaine Harbin, charge nurse in the maternity ward at Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale where Christian is a patient. "We have a lot of moms who have teens and are starting over."

Clayton County, one of the fastest growing counties in the state, stands in contradiction of another CDC recognized national trend, the decline in overall birthrates. In 2001 there were 4,395 births at the hospital and in 2002 there were 4,807.

Between January and June of this year there have already been 2,471 births.

The smaller proportion of women of childbearing age in the United States' population, resulting from the aging of the baby boomers and longer life expectancy, is one reason for the low birthrate given in the CDC report "Births: Preliminary Data for 2002." That report showed that 2002's birthrate was 13.9 per 1,000 persons, down 1 percent from 2001's birthrate of 14.1 per 1,000 and the lowest level measured since national data has been available.

Another trend on the decline is the birthrate among teenagers, a reduction that began in 1991. That rate fell in 2002 to 43 births per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 to 19, a 5-percent decrease from 2001 and a 28-percent drop from 1990.

As an unmarried mother, Christian is part of another group that declined in 2002, although they made up one-third of the births in the nation for that year. But Christian is also a member of a growing demographic, the number of women have Caesarian sections as opposed to vaginal birth.

At 26.1 percent of births, the number of C-sections in 2002 was the highest ever reported, according to the CDC. The number of women getting C-sections for the first time rose 7 percent while the rate of vaginal births for women who previously had C-sections dropped 23 percent, a trend that didn't surprise Harbin.

"A lot of people who had a C-section before would like to have another C-section," Harbin said.

In Christian's case the procedure was necessary because her little girl, Lauren Pate, was poised to be a breach birth. In a breach birth the baby is born feet-first, increasing the chances that the umbilical cord will wrap around its neck and strangle it.

"I was a little freaked out by that because I'd been going to a doctor and it hadn't been discovered," Christian said. "I was a little nervous (about the C-section) but it wasn't too bad."

Also in the CDC report, the number of low birthweight babies (infants born weighing less than 2,500 grams) increased to the highest level seen in 30 years at 7.8 percent. The number of pre-term babies also increased from 11.9 percent in 2001 to 12 percent in 2002.

The percentage of women with access to pre-natal care increased to 83.8 percent in 2002 from 83.4 percent in 2001. The "slow and steady" increase has risen 7.6 percent since 1990 when it was 75.8 percent.