Number of babies born rose for first time in 12 years in 2021

More than 60,500 births in Ireland last year places ‘additional pressures’ on maternity services

The national birth rate rose for the first time in 12 years last year, indicating the Covid-19 pandemic may have led to a baby boom.

According to the National Women and Infants Health Programme (NWIHP) annual report, the national birth rate rose by 6.5 per cent in 2021, when compared to 2020, with 60,551 babies being born last year.

This is the first time the birth rate has increased since 2009, the report adds.

Speaking about the statistics, Kilian McGrane, director of the NWIHP, said the increased birth rate created “additional pressures” on maternity services last year.

“All 19 maternity units saw an increase in births, with the increase ranging from just over 1 per cent to in excess of 20 per cent,” he said.

“The increase in births, with the current level of complexity already in the system, will present staffing challenges to maintain the current level of high-quality care.”

Mr McGrane added that a “particular challenge” last year was ensuring access for partners was facilitated, despite the high level of restrictions that were in hospitals at various stages throughout the year.

However, Mr McGrane said despite these challenges, the maternity services “performed very well and continued to keep women, babies and staff safe”.

Some of the new measures introduced last year include the provision of both lactation consultants and advanced midwife practitioners in all 19 maternity units, the opening of the country’s first specialised menopause clinic in December and the expansion of the specialist endometriosis clinic in Tallaght University Hospital.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said 2021 was a challenging year for the health service, but added the report showed “significant progress” continued to be made.

“I am determined to improve access, affordability and quality of women’s health services and, as part of that, I want to ensure the ongoing development of safe, trusted, standardised maternity care which supports better outcomes for women.”

The Minister said he would be bringing a miscellaneous Bill before the Dáil on Wednesday to bring in the legislative provisions for abolishing paediatric inpatient hospital charges, as well as amending the Bill at committee stage to provide the legislative changes needed for free contraception.

Asked if the Government would provide for publicly funded IVF next year, Mr Donnelly said he could not comment on budget negotiations but added he would like to see this service being provided in Ireland.

“What we’re doing at the moment is we’re putting in the physical and the legislative infrastructure for that,” he said.

“The six regional fertility hubs are up and running and they can provide a lot of fertility care. The [Assisted Human Reproduction] Bill provides us with the infrastructure so we can regulate the industry, we can regulate IVF here. It is something I would like to see at least commenced next year.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times