Births in Utah still high, but decline for 4th straight year

Published December 27, 2012 10:17 am

Families • Number of newborns appears to have dropped for fourth straight year.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah may have the country's highest birthrate, but baby-making still hasn't fully recovered from the recession.

It appears this year will be the fourth in a row of declining births. That hasn't happened since the 1980s.

Official numbers from the Utah Department of Health show 51,144 babies were born last year. That's a drop of about 1,000 from 2010.

And Utah's largest hospitals report a continued decline this year. Intermountain Healthcare hospitals, where nearly 60 percent of all Utah babies are born, projects a slight decline of 130. That's less than the drop from 2010 to 2011, which was more than 600 babies. And MountainStar's six hospitals collectively anticipate a drop of 650 births this year.

It appears more families are delaying having children or are sticking with a smaller number of kids.

"I can safely say that Intermountain's perspective is that the decline in births has been due to the economy," said spokesman Daron Cowley.

The economy had initially delayed Angie Call's newest addition to her South Jordan family. But it picked up enough recently to allow her family to expand. She had her fourth baby, Jackson, on Dec. 20 at Altaview Hospital in Sandy.

Her husband had lost his job about three years ago. A year later he got a job with benefits, and then it took longer than expected for the couple to get pregnant.

"We did wait a little bit longer, but ... we always knew we would like to have a fourth one," she said from the hospital. "It was longer than we planned."

While the 34-year-old once thought she wanted five or six kids, the couple settled on four as a number they could handle and afford.

"I love big families. I wanted to make sure I had enough time to spend with each individual child," she said.

Some hospitals still see a booming business.

At the University of Utah, births are up this year, with nearly 4,000 babies born as of late-December. Last year, about 3,700 were born.

Births at Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem have increased since 2009. "We're very, very busy. I would say 10 [deliveries] a day in just the last week," said Michelle Fisher, a registered nurse and director of the hospital's women's services.

While it's feast or famine in delivery — some days it will drop to two deliveries a day — the hospital noticed a "significant" increase in births starting in March. It hired several new nurses to keep up with demand, she said.

"There's definitely a recession, but like I said, I'm not sure how great an impact it ultimately has on these young couples. They get married and want to start their families."

Timpanogos likely benefits from its location in the northwest part of the county, where there are affordable housing options and young families, Fisher said.

In addition, the hospital recently added a newborn intensive care unit, along with doctors who can treat high-risk pregnancies. And Fisher said the hospital does well in national quality rankings.

The number of home births slightly increased from 2010 to 2011. Nearly 900 women gave birth at home, most of them planned, compared to 862. Such births make up a sliver of all births, at nearly 2 percent.

It cost an average of $5,800 to have a baby with a normal pregnancy and delivery in Utah hospitals in 2009, according to the latest available data. But the costs ranged from $3,000 at Gunnison Valley to $7,800 at University of Utah, according to health department figures. —

Births in Utah

They've declined since 2008. They had been rising nonstop since 1993.

2007: 55,063

2008: 55,605

2009: 53,849

2010: 52,164

2011: 51,144

Source: Utah Department of Health