The total number of U.S. births increased to 3,959,417 in 1999, an increase of less than 1 percent from 1998, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said. When the number of births rose 2 percent during 1998, it was the first increase since 1990.
The CDC said birth rates for women aged 30 to 44 increased in 1999, with the rate for women in their thirties at the highest level in more than three decades.
The median age for first-time mothers rose to 24.5 years, continuing an upward trend that began in 1972.
For every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19, there were 49.6 births in 1999, a 3 percent decline from 1998. The rate has dropped 20 percent during the past 10 years and is now at a record low, the CDC said.
"The data from this report serve as important pieces to the overall puzzle of maternal and infant health in this country," said Dr. Edward Sondik, director of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and author of the report.
One surprising finding, researchers said, was a decrease in the number of babies arriving in triplets or more-what researchers call higher-order multiple births. That figure had more than doubled between 1990 and 1998, fueled by the increased use of fertility-enhancing drugs.
"There's been a lot of concern about some of the serious consequences associated with the enormous rise in higher-order multiple births over the past decade," said CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan.
"Most of these babies are born premature and of low birthweight, which puts them at risk for a variety of health threats, including infant death and severe life-long disabilities," Koplan said.
Cigarette smoking during pregnancy declined in 1999, the CDC said, but tobacco use by 15- to 24-year-old females increased. Smokers had a higher proportion of low birthweight babies.
Overall, the percentage of babies born with low birthweight remained unchanged between 1998 and 1999, at 7.6 percent. However, that figure is 9 percent higher than it was in 1990.
Low birthweight is a leading cause of infant mortality or disability, government health officials said.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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