The FINANCIAL — In England and Wales, the stillbirth rate decreased from 4.0 stillbirths per 1,000 total births in 2019 to 3.9 in the first three quarters (Jan to Sept) of 2020, in line with the long-term trend.
The proportion of all preterm live births decreased for the second year in a row, from 7.8% in 2019 to 7.5% in the first three quarters of 2020.
The proportion of live births with a low birthweight in England and Wales has been stable in the last decade (between 6.9% and 7.1%), but the percentage decreased from 6.9% to 6.8% in the first three quarters of 2020.
“In line with recent trends there have been fewer births in 2020 so far, compared with the same stage in 2019. However, there were still large numbers of parents facing the challenges of a newborn during pandemic restrictions. There were over 150,000 live births during quarter two, coinciding with the first lockdown and the tightest restrictions with similar numbers born in quarter one, pre-lockdown restrictions.
“There have been concerns about the effect of the pandemic on stillbirth rates and while studies in other nations have reported a reduction in preterm births during lockdowns, we found that stillbirth rates and pre-term live births in England and Wales in 2020 are broadly in line with recent national trends.”
In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, birth registration services in England and Wales were suspended in March 2020. Since June 2020, birth registrations have restarted where it was safe to do so but the 2020 birth registration data the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has access to is currently incomplete.
NHS birth notification data have not been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic unlike birth registrations. Therefore, we have used NHS birth notification data to provide more timely estimates of 2020 births in England and Wales and investigate the effect the coronavirus pandemic may have had on births.
When NHS birth notification data are compared with birth registration data, we find that differences are small, especially at the national level, and we are confident that the provisional figures in this release are of sufficient quality.
Number of live births and fertility rates
Based on birth notification data, in the first three quarters (Jan to Sept) of 2020, there were 464,437 live births in England and Wales; a decrease of 3.6% compared with the same period in 2019 and a 15.3% decrease since the most recent peak in 2012.
In the first quarter (Jan to Mar) of 2020, there were 152,521 live births, 153,464 in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) and 158,452 in Quarter 3 (July to Sept). Or on average, approximately 52,000 live births per month.
The total fertility rate (TFR) decreased from 1.65 children per woman in 2019 to 1.60 for the first three quarters of 2020. This continues a downward trend in the TFR, where it has decreased by 17.1% since 2012.
We will release the final TFR for the whole of 2020, based on birth registration data, in the summer of 2021. We note that the lowest TFR on record based on those data is the rate of 1.63 seen in 2001.