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Number Of Babies Born In Wisconsin Declines To Lowest Point In 44 Years

State Data Shows Fewer Than 65,000 Babies Born In 2017

Baby and mom
Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

Fewer babies are being born in Wisconsin.

For the first time since 1973, data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows the total number of births has dropped below 65,000. That hasn’t happened since Richard Nixon was president.

In 2017, there were 64,994 births.

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The most recent peak was in 2007, right before the Great Recession, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison demographer, and births have dropped 11 percent since then. Births across the U.S. have also decreased, but not as much.

Graph courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services

“The decline in births that has been happening over the last 10 years has really been showing up in public school populations,” said David Egan-Robertson, of the UW-Madison Applied Population Laboratory. “So as we go forward we have to take that into account. One of the big implications, particularly in more rural districts, is the number of births are down. In fact in some counties they’re down as much as 30 percent from 2007. That’s really having an impact on local school decisions.”

Helping drive the decline in total births is fewer teens having babies.

Egan-Robertson said teen births have declined 60 percent over a decade.

“And in 2017 for the first time teen births fell below 4 percent of total births,” Egan-Robertson said. “So that’s quite a significant change. It’s been a very long-term process, but that’s a noticeable change in that age group.”

Graph courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Family planning made national news last week when President Donald Trump directed money from a federal family planning program toward faith-based providers and away from Planned Parenthood. In addition to providing contraception and testing for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, Planned Parenthood also provides abortions. Opponents have indicated they will mount a court challenge.

Additionally, the Trump administration has pushed for abstinence-only sex education which concerns groups working to reduce teen pregnancy.

“It’s important to note that comprehensive sex education includes very strong pro-abstinence messaging,” said Nicole Angresano, vice president at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. “A very strong message around delaying sexual activity until you are prepared for the potential consequences be that pregnancy, STI’s, the emotional impact etc. … That being said, we also know that you have to give young people real information about life choices — how to prevent pregnancy and in the cases if they are having sexual intimacy, how to have safer sex.”

The picture on births in Wisconsin is mixed. Overall births are declining, so are teen births, but low birth weight among babies is increasing.

Marilyn Noll is director of maternal-child health at March of Dimes in Wisconsin. She said low birth weight and prematurity are closely linked and that being born too early is the number one cause of infant death.

“It’s really shocking to see the stats continue to rise. Everyone is doing a lot of work and yet they’re not seeing the fruits of their labor,” Noll said.

She said the prematurity rate for Hispanic babies was once equivalent to that of white babies. Now it’s higher, as it is for African-American babies.

“Fifteen percent of African-American moms have a baby that is born low birth weight. And 15 percent of African-American moms also have a baby that is born premature,” said Noll. “So it’s really worrisome. It’s time we take this seriously and that we have to do something different.”

Graph courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Last week, Gov. Tony Evers unveiled preliminary budget plans to spend $28 million on women and children’s health. His budget, which will be formally released Thursday, calls for expanding postpartum care to women on Medicaid along with expanding doula services and training.

“Doula care is really an important aspect of what we can do to reach out to women who are on Medicaid to help provide extra support for them during pregnancy,” Noll said. “It’s very encouraging to see (Evers) is considering funding for that.”