Birth rates increasing slightly in St. John's, after N.L.'s 2020 all-time low

·4 min read
A father and a mother look at their newborn son during the pandemic in Paris in 2020. COVID-19 may have played a role in people in St. John's delaying having babies until 2021, says one Eastern Health doctor. (Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)
A father and a mother look at their newborn son during the pandemic in Paris in 2020. COVID-19 may have played a role in people in St. John's delaying having babies until 2021, says one Eastern Health doctor. (Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)
Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images
Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images

There has been a slight increase in births so far in 2021 at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's, according to Eastern Health, an uptick that comes on the heels of a pandemic-plagued year that saw a historic low point in births across Newfoundland and Labrador.

In a regular month, the Health Sciences Centre delivers roughly 180 to 200 babies. This year, the hospital is on track to meet the upper end of that average, and in recent months has even bumped beyond that to between about 215 and 220 births per month, according to Dr. Chris Holden, an obstetrician gynecologist with Eastern Health.

"When you look at the reasons for the increase at this point, I think a lot of it probably relates back to a delay in having children, maybe from last year with the onset of the pandemic," Holden told CBC News.

The COVID-19 turmoil that engulfed 2020 may have contributed to the lowest number of births on record for the province — 3,572, according to Statistics Canada. Every quarter of 2020 was below the 1,000-birth mark, the first time that has happened in record-keeping that stretches back to 1949.

But Holden said as the pandemic drags on and more is known about COVID-19, people are beginning to grow their families again.

"I think the reason is that some of the people who may not have had a baby last year have now gotten a little more comfortable with understanding COVID. We know more about COVID, more people are being vaccinated," said Holden.

Holden said there has been one demographic shift in births.

"Just anecdotally, you are seeing new residents to the province who are having babies. I think there's definitely an increase in that part of the population," he said.

Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

While births have steadily declined for decades, one pattern that has emerged in recent years, Holden said, is small spikes in births happen when the economy is going well. He pointed to upticks in 2008 and 2009, and again in 2013 and 2014, as examples.

"People feel more comfortable with having children during those times, and that's a big factor. It may have played a factor in the decline last year, in terms when people have concerns about their employment and concern about the economy," he said.

Aging population, aging millennials

Robert Greenwood, director of Memorial University's Harris Centre, said the recent increase in newborns is great news, but it's too early to call it a trend. The Harris Centre is an arm of the university that engages with public policy and regional development.

Greenwood said an increase in newborns in the St. John's area may have to do in part with aging millennials.

"Many are now entering their 30s and getting well into their 30s, so many would feel that if they are going to have children then now is the time," Greenwood said.

"It makes sense based on the [demographics] and the fact that a lot of that population is in the northeast Avalon. As we know, many people have migrated out of rural areas into urban areas of the province.… There's a concentration of a younger cohort overall in the northeast Avalon."

Greenwood said the slight increase in millennials having children could continue over the next several years, but the overall global trend of women having less children in general is not turning around.

"Family-friendly policies are absolutely essential, because we have to make it as positive as possible for people to have children and children to grow up well adjusted," he said.

Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

"But it's not going to address the demographic decline in our province, in rural areas of the country and indeed for the whole country. If it wasn't for immigration Canada wouldn't net population growth."

According to the provincial government, Newfoundland and Labrador's fertility rate is the lowest in the country.

The province's aging population has been focal point in recent years, with political parties vowing to balance that demographic by attracting new people to the province.

In the most recent provincial election, the Liberal Party pledged to triple the number of people moving to the province, from its current 1,700 annually up to 5,100 over the next five years.

Greenwood said population projections for N.L., based on historic outmigration, immigration, birth rates and trends indicate the province will not get enough immigrants in the short to medium term, especially with retention rates, to make up for its loss in population.

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