The Death of Birth — Our Dismal Fertility Rates

Through Collapsed Fertility Rates, We Are Self-Exterminating

The Risk of Birthing at a Later Age

According to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare the number of Australian births jumped by 6% from 2004 to 2005. Though this is good news for the child-hungry nation, it may well be temporary. As in other countries, the daughters of baby boomers are reaching their thirties — their most fecund years. Once this cohort has passed its mid-30s, a smaller number of women will enter this age group, and fertility rates will likely fall again.

What may not be such a quickly passing phenomenon is the rise in the percentage of pre-term births and the associated health problems. The average age of a woman giving birth rose from 28.6 in 1996 to 29.8 in 2005. Equally foreboding was the age increase of first time mothers from roughly 26.5 to 28 over the same decade. Pre-term births and low birth weights are often found with birthing by older women, and the new statistics bear out this association. Of all babies born, 8.1% were three or more weeks premature with 6.4% officially underweight at 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) or less.

Low birth weights increase the risk of infant mortality and closely correlate with a number of physical problems including respiratory illness and neurodevelopmental difficulties.

The report, “Australia’s Mothers and Babies 2005,” notes that 17.4% of mothers smoked during pregnancy. Dr. Sullivan, of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s National Perinatal Statistics Unit stated, “Poorer outcomes such as pre-term birth and low birth weight were more common in the less advantaged groups.” In addition, wealthier mothers were less likely to smoke while gestating. The American Lung Association notes that “If a woman smokes during pregnancy she takes a big chance with her baby’s health. There is a greater chance that she will lose the baby during pregnancy. The baby could also be born too early, before the lungs are ready, so he or she will have trouble breathing.” The organization also points out that “when the mother smokes, so does the baby. Smokers take in poisons such as nicotine and carbon monoxide (the same gas that comes out of a car’s exhaust pipe). These poisons get into the placenta, which is the tissue that connects the mother and the baby before it is born. These poisons keep the unborn baby from getting the food and oxygen needed to grow.”

The March of Dimes points out that “Smoking has long been known to slow fetal growth. Studies also suggest that smoking increases the risk of preterm delivery 37 weeks of gestation. Premature and low-birthweight babies face an increased risk of serious health problems during the newborn period, chronic lifelong disabilities (such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation and learning problems) and even death.”

Countries that pay women to have children would do well to look into what impact the practice has regarding the health of society’s newest members. We need to ask if a middle class or wealthy woman will have a child, whom she otherwise wouldn’t have had, in return for a monetary payment. Is it more likely financial compensation will lead a poor woman, who is desperate for money, to have a child that she wouldn’t otherwise have had?

In considering these matters, it would of course be necessary to avoid racism or classism or any of the other pernicious isms that so often plague societies. Perhaps governments should spend more to educate and care for poor, pregnant women. Certainly societies should not cavalierly engage in practices that result in a higher percentage of children with serious health problems.

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