For the second year running, Mumbai, India’s most populous city, has witnessed a slump in live births.
The uncertainty associated with a global pandemic and its impacts on families’ economic circumstances are deemed as the most likely reasons for a fall in the total number of live births in the city. The massive out-migration from space-starved Mumbai is deemed to be another reason for the drop.
In 2019, Mumbai recorded 1,48,898 births. In 2020, the number dropped to 1,20,188. In 2021, it further dropped to 1,13,669, which is a 23.65 per cent decrease over the total number of live births recorded in the pre-pandemic period.
There is, however, some hope that the number of live births may increase marginally in 2022. Data available till September shows Mumbai has seen 94,117 live births this year.
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The findings are not surprising to many demographers, who have noted similar declines all across the world, including in developed countries like the United States. “When a new disease outbreaks, people panic, which has emotional and financial repercussions. So, though, they don’t forego childbearing, they delay it until the situation improves,” said Dr Soumitra Ghosh from School of Health Systems Studies, TISS.
“The same happened during the Covid-19 pandemic when a large number of people sustained economic loss, including losing jobs,” he added.
According to experts, such a “baby bust” was also witnessed after catastrophic events such as the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Almost 40 per cent of Mumbai’s population lives in densely populated slums, as per Census 2011. When the pandemic started, many slums, such as Worli Koliwada in G South ward (Elphinstone), Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, in G North ward, among others, turned into hot spots of the infection.
Some of these areas are also home to the migrant population. The first national lockdown saw lakhs of migrants, including pregnant women, leave the city. After the flattening of the pandemic curve, though many men returned in 2021, they have left their wives back home.
“We have witnessed a drastic drop in the deliveries in slums. We believe that as many migrant mothers haven’t returned, the live birth rate remained low even in 2021,” said Dr Mangala Gomare, BMC’s executive health officer.
By January 2021, when Mumbai was hit by the second wave of Covid-19, a large number of pregnant mothers opted for home deliveries with the help of midwives, especially in slums, in order to avoid going to hospitals and exposing themselves to the virus. Data from BMC shows that in 2019, 353 home deliveries were reported, which dropped to 256 in 2020. But in 2021, the figure was 420.
The BMC data also showed that the number of abortion in 2021 had dropped to around 28,000 in comparison to 35,000 abortions recorded in pre-pandemic times.
“In 2021, the impact of the second wave was much severe. Although the lockdown was restricted compared to the first wave (in 2020) with better accessibility to hospitals, many couples, due to fear of contacting Covid-19, ignored planned pregnancies. Thus, we witnessed fewer births and abortions,” said Dr Arun Nayak, gynocologist from Sion hospital, which record the highest annual deliveries.