The Baltimore Sun

Amid the largest crop of American newborns since the baby boom, a new federal report reveals some worrisome changes in recent childbirth patterns across the nation.

Rates of births to teens and to unwed women have ended years of declines and headed higher, setting new records, according to the report on birth trends in 2006 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, the percentage of women receiving prenatal medical care in their first trimester, a trend that had been improving, turned lower.

The authors also report:

* The highest level of low birthweight babies - 8.3 percent - in four decades.

* A sharp increase since 1990 in pre-term babies - up 20 percent.

* Steep increases since 1990 in the percentage of mothers who gained too little or too much weight (less than 16 pounds or more than 40) during pregnancy - up from 24 percent to 33 percent of all births.

* A record-high percentage of women undergoing Caesarean deliveries in 2006, to more than 31 percent of all live births.

The troubling news comes as American women in 2006 were having more babies than at any time since 1961. Births totaled almost 4.3 million in all, up 3 percent from the previous year.

Statistics broken down by state show that Maryland women generally scored as well as or better than the national average on these issues.

But the state, one of the wealthiest in the nation, still shows sharp contrasts in childbirth trends between racial and ethnic groups, with black and Hispanic mothers and their babies typically disadvantaged relative to whites.

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