Birth rate decreases in nation, Augusta

Sara Caldwell/Staff
Frances Carter sits with her grandson Cade Cullipher, 4, as they hold his newborn sister, Caylee, who was born Monday at University Hospital. Fewer babies are being born.

Dawn Cullipher, of Lincolnton, is used to doing things her own way.

 

She got married and had her three children -- the third of whom, Caylee Dawn, was delivered Monday at University Hospital. This fall she will continue her dream of becoming a nurse.

"I did it backwards," she said jokingly.

She is also bucking national and local trends -- births are mostly down this year in Augusta and have been declining nationwide the last three years.

University had budgeted for 1,296 births through May 31 and saw 1,222 instead. Medical College of Georgia Hospital has had 395 births through May, compared with 421 during the same period last year. Doctors Hospital had expected to see an increase but is staying around 130 births a month, spokeswoman Barclay Bishop said.

Trinity Hospital of Augusta budgeted for a 5 percent increase because of recent trends, but its numbers are nearly identical to last year's, 100 births a month, said CEO Jim Cruickshank.

"We had been recognizing pretty steady growth and of course projected it would continue," he said, particularly because the hospital handles low-risk births for Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center. "But it just hasn't materialized."

Births had increased in 2009 at University in spite of the national trend, "but it looks like this year it is catching up and it is catching up with everybody across the board," said Liz Price, the director of women and children's services at University.

"What I've heard is we're down about 4 percent in the community," she said.

Nationally, births have declined 7 percent since 2007, from 4.3 million to about 4 million for 2010, according to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No one is quite sure why, but many people point to the economy.

"I don't know if people, because of the economy the way it is, are putting off having kids or thinking twice about having more kids," Cruickshank said. "I don't know."

It is difficult to pin it all on the economy -- previous downturns had mixed effects -- but it might alter plans for those who were starting or adding to a family, said Dr. Lawrence Devoe, a professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at Georgia Health Sciences University.

"Then somebody loses their job. Or both of them lose their jobs," he said. "Or the money they had put away to help prepare for a child starts getting eaten up because they have to go into their savings."

Births tend to pick up in the late summer and fall months, so it might change, but Price said that wasn't her perception this year.

"Because of the recession or just the general overall economy, I don't get the feeling it is going to rebound a lot this year," she said.

Another factor might be the declining teen birth rate. For the 13-county East Central Health District, babies born to those ages 15-19 went from 1,047 in 2007 to 886 in 2009, and the birth rate declined from 64.6 per 1,000 girls in that age group, to 55.8.

In Richmond County, teen births declined even more dramatically, from 561 in 2007 to 438 in 2009, and the birth rate dropped from 76.9 per 1,000 to 64.2.

That is probably not from the economy as much as it is to programs aimed at reducing teen births, Devoe said.

It's hard to generalize on why people decide to or delay having a child, Price said.

"There's just so many millions of reasons," she said. "But the No. 1 has got to be the economy."

People who have children tend to be optimists, so having a child in difficult financial circumstances definitely says something, Devoe said.

"People who are having children, who are having planned pregnancies, they're the optimists because they are casting a vote for the future," he said.

That certainly applies to the Culliphers.

"We didn't even think about the economy when we had her," said Lee Cullipher, the father.

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