Number of Unwed Births, C-Sections Hit Record Highs

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Births to unmarried women, and births by C-section, hit record highs in 2005, according to the CDC's annual "vital statistics" report.

The CDC's report on U.S. births and deaths appears every year in the journal Pediatrics.

This year's report shows the U.S. birth rate for women age 15 to 44 soared to its highest level since 1993, with 66.7 births per 1,000 women.

Not far behind was the record-high birth rate for unmarried women: in 2005, 47.6 births per 1,000 women. That's up 3 percent from the previous year. From 2002 to 2005, the birth rate in unmarried women went up 12 percent.

Meanwhile, the rate babies were dying held steady.

The report shows that America's 2004 infant mortality rate was 6.79 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. That's not statistically different than the 6.84 infant mortality rate in 2003 -- a rate worse than that reported for Cuba.

"Six countries had an infant mortality rate that was half that of the U.S. rate in 2003, and another nine countries had rates that were two-thirds that of the U.S. infant mortality rate," note CDC researchers Brady E. Hamilton, PhD, and colleagues.

"The position of the United States relative to other countries remains unfavorable in terms of infant mortality rates," says the CDC report.

The problem: a high percentage of low-birth-weight babies, the "heterogeneity of the U.S. population relative to many other developed countries, and "continuing disparities in health among disadvantaged relative to more advantaged groups," the report suggests.

The infant mortality rate among non-Hispanic black Americans is 13.60 per 1,000 -- twice the death rate within 1 year of birth than for white and Hispanic babies.

The report does have some good news: The birth rate continues to fall for teenage mothers. At 40.4 births per 1,000 teens age 15 to 19, the teen birth rate is the lowest recorded in 65 years of U.S. record keeping.

Other key statistics:

--In 2005, the birth rate for women 30 and older was the highest in nearly 40 years.

--30.2 percentage of all births in 2005 were by Cesarean section (C-section). That's another new record.

--The preterm birth rate continues to climb. In 2005, 12.7 percent of American births were preterm.

--The low-birth-weight rate also continues to rise. In 2005, 8.2 percent of American births were low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds). Low birth weight greatly increases a child's risk of death and illness.

--Life expectancy hit a record high. An American born in 2004 can expect to live to age 77.8.

--Adult death rates declined for nine of the top 15 causes of death.

--Child death rates did not decline. The child suicide rate went up. As in past years, the No. 1 cause of child deaths in the U.S. was preventable injury.

By Daniel J. DeNoon, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD