For the first time in 10 years, the number of births in Flanders increased; 2021 also saw the highest number of caesarean sections recorded.
There were 62,846 hospital births in the region – 2,548 (4.2%) more than in 2020, according to a provisional count by the Study Centre for Perinatal Epidemiology (SPE) based on the total number of deliveries within the 59 maternity hospitals in the Flemish Region and the UZ Brussel.
“Although the Covid-19 lockdown and other coronavirus measures did not result in a higher birth rate in 2020, in 2021 it did. Many of the children born in 2021 were obviously conceived in 2020,” a statement read.
The past decade has seen a remarkable decline in births in Flanders. Just ten years ago, some 69,660 births were registered every year. In 2020, this was down to 61,700 – a decline of 11.4%. Last year was the first in a decade to break this trend.
The largest increase since 2020 was reported in the second half of 2021 (+9.0%), particularly in August, September, November and December. Breaking down the figures by province, the largest increases in hospital births was seen in East Flanders (+6.7%) and Antwerp (+6.2%).
Caesareans linked to obesity levels
2020 set the record for birth by caesarean section in Flanders with almost a quarter (22.5%) of babies born this way.
According to the SPE, caesarean sections increase with the mother’s age and BMI prior to pregnancy. The rise in caesarean sections therefore highlights a rise in overweight mothers.
“At the start of the pregnancy, almost 40% of Flemish women have an unhealthy BMI of over 25.0 kg/m² (25.5% overweight and 14.3% obese).”
Figures show that this proportion is worryingly high: in 2011, 32.5% of mothers were overweight or obese; in 2020 this figure is 39.8 %.
The SPE warned that excessive BMI during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of diabetes and hypertension and that children of obese women are also significantly more likely to have weight problems themselves later in life.
Meanwhile, in comparison with the weeks before the first lockdown in 2020, there were significantly more births after spontaneous pregnancies during the rest of the year 2020. “The temporary closure of fertility centres may explain this,” the SPE stated.