The National Vital Statistics System, a division of the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released preliminary 2015 birth data for the United States, and we can consider the news to be stable if not positive in most areas.
Here are ten important major pieces of data released that help shape how we are doing as a country in providing care to pregnant people and their newborns. 99.53% of all births that occured in the U.S. in 2015 were captured in this report. It should be noted that beginning with 2014, NCHS changed the standards they were using to estimate the gestational age of the newborn. In 2014, they began using the obstetric estimate of gestation at delivery (OE), which replaced the measure based on the date of the last normal menses (LMP). LMP-based data is available here.
1. There were 3,977,745 births in 2015, a 0.3% decrease from 2014 numbers. There were 10,331 less births in 2015 than in 2014.
2. The birth rate for teenagers (women aged 15-19) was 22.3 births per 1,000. This is an historic low for the U.S and demonstrates an 8% drop over 2014 figures. Since the most recent peak in 1991, the rate has declined a total of 64%. In 2015, the preliminary number of births to women aged 15–19 was 229,888.
3. The percentage of all births to unmarried women was 40.2% in 2015, unchanged from 2014. In 2015, the number of births to unmarried women was 1,600,208, a 0.3% decline from 2014 (1,604,870). This is the seventh consecutive year of decline since the all-time peak in 2007/2008.
4. The preliminary overall cesarean birth rate was 32.0%, down from 32.2 in 2014 and the third straight yearof decline. The rate peaked in 2009 at 32.9, then remained stable but has gone down in each of the past three years, with this year being the lowest since 2007. 1,272,874 babies were born by cesarean in 2015. Non-Hispanic Blacks had the highest cesarean rate, 35.5%, compared to other races/ethnicities.
5. The rate of low-risk (NTSV) cesarean deliveries declined to 25.7% in 2015. This is 1% lower than the 2014 rate of 26.0%. NTSV stands for nulliparous (first birth), term (37 or more completed weeks) singleton (one fetus) in the vertex (head-down) position. Science & Sensibility has covered this topic in some recent posts; An Interview with Neel Shah, MD, MPP - Co-Author of the Just Released Cesarean Rate Research and Dueling Cesarean Statistics: What Should the Cesarean Rate Be? - Henci Goer Compares Recent Studies.
6. Low-risk cesarean delivery rates declined in 10 states from 2014 to 2015. Since the peak in 2009, low-risk cesarean delivery rates have dropped in 37 states, with declines of more than 20% in Wyoming, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. Low-risk cesarean increased in 1 state (New Mexico) from 2009 to 2015.
7. The 2015 preliminary preterm birth rate (based on the obstetric estimate of gestation, see above) was up slightly for 2015, to 9.62% from 9.57% in 2014. This marks the first increase in this rate since at least 2007 (the first year for which national data are available for the obstetric estimate of gestation). Non-Hispanic Blacks had the highest rates of premature births at 13.39%.
8. The late preterm birth rate (34–36 weeks), which had declined 9% from 2007 (7.51%) to 2014 (6.82%), rose in 2015 to 6.87%. The percentage of infants born early preterm (less than 34 weeks) was essentially unchanged at 2.75% and was down 6% from 2007.
9. Preterm birth rates declined in 41 states and the District of Columbia from 2007 to 2015. Rates for 8 states did not change significantly, and the preterm rate for Wisconsin increased.
10. The U.S. low birthweight rate (the percentage of infants born at less than 2,500 grams or 5 lb, 8 oz) was 8.07%, the first increase since 2007, as the last 8 years were all decreases. The percentage of very low birthweight (VLBW) infants (less than 1,500 grams) was essentially stable at 1.39% in 2015. The percentage of infants delivered at moderately low birthweight (1,500–2,499 grams) rose to 6.67% in 2015, from 6.60% in 2014. This rate peaked in 2006 at 6.77%. Non-Hispanic Black infants had the highest percentage of low birthweight rates at 13.3%
The entire report (which you can find here) is fascinating to read and covers much more than we are able to highlight here. Additionally, supplemental tables and additional resources are included in the comprehensive report. It is clear, even from the brief recap I have provided, that much work needs to be to eliminate health disparities and improve pregnancy and birth outcomes for people of color. Much still needs to change here in the U.S to improve maternal infant health in this country, for all families. Our position in the world on maternal and neonatal mortality is dismal considering the wealth of resources at our disposal. I am thankful that there is mostly good or at least stable news from the NCHS at this point.
Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Osterman MJK. Births: Preliminary data for 2015. National vital statistics reports; vol 65 no 3. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2016.