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U.S. births were flat last year, federal health officials said, as the nation saw fewer babies born than it did before the pandemic. The data was reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday.

A prominent obstetrician in Key Biscayne says birth rates in his practice are also unchanged.

“We’re as busy as ever,” said Dr. Jorge Mendia, an OB-GYN who practices at Mercy Hospital, but he noted a few differences from the national data because of the socioeconomics of the island.

Nationally, births to moms 35 and older continued to rise, with the highest rates in that age group since the 1960s. But those gains were offset by record-low birth rates to moms in their teens and early 20s, the CDC found. Its report is based on a review of more than 99% of birth certificates issued last year.

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A little under 3.7 million babies were born in the U.S. last year, about 3,000 fewer than the year before. Because the numbers are provisional and the change was small, officials consider births to have been “kind of level from the previous year,” said the CDC’s Brady Hamilton, the lead author of the report.

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Mendia said that because of the generally affluent nature of the community, he almost never sees teenagers and very rarely sees mothers in their early 20s.

“If you walk into our office, they’re all mid-30s,” he said.

U.S. births were declining for more than a decade before COVID-19 hit, then dropped a whopping 4% from 2019 to 2020. They ticked up about 1% in 2021, an increase experts attributed to pregnancies that couples had put off amid the early days of the pandemic.

Mendia says he’s not surprised with the overall findings of a depressed birthrate since the pandemic.

“I think there is a fear of the expense, whether it’s college or something else. There is that thought process,” Mendia said. “The expense of everything, it’s just crazy these days. When you start later, you have less kids.”

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More findings from the CDC:

— The highest birth rates continue to be see in women in their early 30s. The number of births for women that age was basically unchanged from the year before. Births were down slightly for women in their late 20s, who have the second-highest birth rate.

— Births to Hispanic moms rose 6% last year and surpassed 25% of the U.S. total. Births to white moms fell 3%, but still accounted for 50% of births. Births to Black moms fell 1%, and were 14% of the total.

— The cesarean section birth rate rose slightly, to 32.2% of births. That’s the highest it’s been since 2014. Some experts worry that C-sections are done more often than medically necessary. Mendia said he’s seeing the same trend in his practice. “They’re the highest they’ve ever been.”

— The U.S. was once among only a few developed countries with a fertility rate that ensured each generation had enough children to replace itself — about 2.1 kids per woman. But it’s been sliding, and in 2020 dropped to about 1.6, the lowest rate on record. It rose slightly in 2021, to nearly 1.7, and stayed there last year.

It’s possible the abortion restrictions will lead to higher births rates in 2023 — more likely among younger women than older moms, said Ushma Upadhyay, a reproductive health researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. But even if there is a rise, it may not bring the nation back to pre-pandemic birth levels, given other trends, she added.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get back there,” she said.

Mike Stobbe is an Associated Press medical writer

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Editor-in-Chief

Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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