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Kansas birth rate hits all-time low as women contemplate health and finances

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Maternal health advocate says prospective parents worry about child care, birth complications

TOPEKA — Kansas documented the state’s lowest-ever recorded birth rate for the 2022 year, according to a preliminary report.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s annual report shows the number of births in the state dropped slightly from 2021.

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Last year’s report documented 34,697 births in 2021, with a birth rate of 11.8 per 1,000 people. The preliminary 2022 report recorded 34,376 births across the state, with a birth rate of 11.7 per 1,000 people.

Seven counties accounted for about 60% of the state’s births for the year: Douglas, Geary, Johnson, Leavenworth, Sedgwick, Shawnee and Wyandotte.

Unmarried mothers made up 36% of all births with 12,370 reported. The rate of births to teenagers between the ages of 15-19 remained at 4.7%, unchanged from the previous year’s rate. Most births were recorded for mothers between the ages of 25-29, with 10,579 births. The next most prolific age bracket was mothers between 30-34, with 9,799 births.

The 2022 birth rate is the lowest rate recorded since the state began keeping vital records in a centralized system in 1911. The state has recorded declining birth rates since 2008, reflecting a national downward trend.

Brenda Bandy, executive director of the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition, said she frequently heard from young women who were concerned about childbirth complications in recent months, a concern that she hadn’t encountered before in her 20 years of work in the field.

“I can tell you for the first time, I am hearing people are afraid of childbirth,” Bandy said. “And I have never heard that before. They appear to be perfectly healthy, young women that are contemplating having birth and they’re actually worried about their safety. And I think the national conversation about maternal mortality, moms dying in childbirth, the complications, many of them are very public.”

“It gets the public’s attention,” Bandy added. “I’m hearing this from women of all races, but predominantly women of color.”

Women across the U.S. face a heightened risk of dying from pregnancy or pregnancy-related complications in recent years, a study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and Mass General Brigham found.

Researchers in the study conducted a state-by-state analysis of maternal deaths rates for 1999-2019 and found Kansas experienced some of the nation’s largest spikes in terms of American Indian and Alaska Native populations, and had consistently high risk levels for Black mothers.

The study also found Black mothers in the state had higher death rates than the surrounding states in many of the years studied. In 2019, Black women were more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes in Kansas as in Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado.

Bandy said child care and parental leave also were important factors for potential parents. Kansas currently faces a child care shortage.

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“We don’t make it easy to be a parent, especially a parent with a newborn,” Bandy said. “If you survive childbirth, then having to manage and navigate that return to work when maybe you don’t have any paid leave.”

Kansas follows a national trend of declining birth rates as access to contraception improved, more women entered the workforce and concerns rose over high costs of childrearing amid inflation. The COVID-19 pandemic also has been an ongoing factor.

A preliminary analysis of 2022 birth records by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found the country’s 2022 birth rate remained below pre-pandemic levels, though the numbers were roughly equivalent to 2021 figures.

Overall, there were 3,661,220 recorded U.S. births in 2022, a “nonsignificant decline” from 2021’s 3,664,292 recorded births, with a general fertility rate of 56.1 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.

Sarah Hayford, a professor of sociology at Ohio State University who studies national birth rate trends, said U.S. birth rates had been declining since the great recession of 2008.

Hayford said economic instability was a factor in the low rates.

“Everybody who studied these issues kind of thought that after the recession was over, birth rates would go back up and sort of come back to more the levels that they have been,” Hayford said. “And we’ve just never seen that rebound from after the Great Recession and birth rates have continued to decline.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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