MUMBAI: The Covid-19 pandemic has not caused a baby boom, but quite the opposite in the city. Mumbai registered nearly 24% fewer births in 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019 — the second year of the country’s most populous city recording a significant drop in birth registrations.
The civic body registered 1,13,792 births in 2021, about 35,106 fewer than in 2019 and 37,395 less than in 2018. In 2020, the first significant fall was noticed as registrations dropped by almost 20% to 1.2 lakh.
Recent BMC data showed that the downward trend continued in 2021, with registrations falling further. Before the pandemic, Mumbai saw an average of 1.5 lakh births in the past five years. While the city has been witnessing falling birth rates in the range of 2-3% in the past few years, it has not been this stark.
The findings are not entirely surprising to many demographers, who attributed the shift to the pandemic, the resultant lockdown and migration of the workforce to their native places and the city’s inability to draw them back after almost two years. Gynaecologists, however, believe the trend is not restricted to the migrant labour force but even the lower, middle- and upper-class families who may have deferred plans to start a family given the economic uncertainties caus- ed by the pandemic.
The drop may be primarily attributable to migration and the slow rate of reverse migration, but a deeper ward-wise study will provide better answers, said Usha Ram, professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the Indian Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS). “Fertility is high in the slums and most migrants were slumdwellers. It can be postulated that the drop happened as they left the city soon after the lockdown,” she said.
It’s equally important to note that many who tried to come back later had to return as they couldn’t sustain themselves due to limited jobs and continued health challenges. The numbers also reflect that only the men may have tried to come back, not their wives and families, she said.
The drop in childbirth registrations has pulled down Mumbai’s crude birth rate to below 10 for the past two years — it was 9.3 in 2020 and an estimated 8.8 in 2021. “Outmigration is the biggest contributor to this trend,” said Dr Mangala Gomare, BMC’s executive health officer. According to Dr Gomare, the numbers have also put speculations of a surge in childbirths following the lockdown to rest. “There is no baby boom, instead it has crashed if we go by the registrations,” she said.
In 2020, many from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region who were enlisted to deliver in city hospitals couldn’t do so due to the lockdown, and that contributed to a fall in numbers, but in 2021, that was not a factor either, said a civic doctor. “Many developed countries, including the US, Hungary and Italy, have seen a drop in birth rates,” added the doctor.
Senior gynaecologist Dr Kiran Coelho believes that the uncertainty that came with the pandemic and its impact on financial circumstances has undoubtedly contributed to a drop in pregnancies and births. “There are many families who have put their childbearing plans on hold because of job insecurity and the high cost of living,” she said. Besides, during the pandemic, many women couldn’t access their own gynaecologists and had to run helter-skelter to deliver their babies.
“There is definitely a drop in births caused by a combination of factors, and it’s noteworthy,” she said.