There was a marked decline in the country’s birth rate over the past two years.
Perinatal statistics published today by the Economic and Social Research Institute reveal a drop of more than 3% in the number of births between 2011 and 2012.
There were 71,986 births notified to the National Perinatal Reporting System on pregnancy outcomes in 2012, compared to 74,377 the previous year — a 3.2% reduction since 2011.
While there has been a 5.3% reduction in birth numbers since 2009, the decline has been greatest over the last two years, with the rate now similar to what it was a decade ago.
The birth rate in 2003 was 15.5 per 1,000 of population, increasing to 16.8 in 2008. It is now up to 15.6.
It also emerged that 28.9% of women gave birth by caesarean section in 2012, an increase of 19.4% in the proportion of such births over the previous decade and a 2.8% increase in the rate since 2011.
In 2003, 24.2% of births were by caesarean section.
The percentage of spontaneous deliveries fell from 61.2% in 2003 to 55.6% last year.
Vacuum extraction was used to assist 11% of births while deliveries using forceps accounted for 4%.
The average age of mothers has increased from 30.6 years in 2003 to 31.9 years in 2012. It was 31.7 in 2011.
Almost 39% of the mothers gave birth for the first time in 2012 and the average age of those mothers was 30 years. The proportion of mothers giving birth for a second time or more fell for all mothers aged less than 35 years and increased for those over 35 years.
The interval in years since last delivery has remained relatively stable over time — it was just under four years in 2012.
More than a third (34%) of births last year were to single mothers who had an average age of 28.8 years, up from 30% in 2003.
Over the decade, there has been a 33% reduction in the stillbirth rate, with a slight decrease of 3% between 2011 and 2012.
Births to mothers from outside Ireland has levelled out. Almost one quarter of the births in 2012 were to mothers born outside Ireland, almost the same as 2011.
The data from the ESRI’s health research and information division also shows the number of women exclusively breastfeeding their babies remained unchanged over the past two years at 47%.
A decade ago, 41% of mothers were breastfeeding their babies.
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