In 2020, there were 358,604 live births in Canada, excluding Yukon. Similar to previous years, the proportion of boys (51.4%) was slightly higher than the proportion of girls (48.6%).
New preliminary 2020 birth and stillbirth information is available today from the Canadian Vital Statistics: Birth Database and the Canadian Vital Statistics: Stillbirth Database. These data provide important insights into the early effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian births.
Decline in overall number of births in Canada continues in 2020
The number of live births continues to decrease, as it has each year since 2016. There were 13,434 fewer births in 2020 than in 2019 (372,038), the greatest year-over-year decrease (3.6%) and the lowest number of births in any year since 2006. The decline from 2019 to 2020 was observed in every province and territory in Canada.
There are various factors that may have played a role in this decline. For example, with the onset of the pandemic, decreased international migration because of travel restrictions may have led to fewer births to newcomer parents. In addition, other social and economic factors from the COVID-19 pandemic (school and daycare closures, job losses, and financial uncertainty) may have led some families to delay having children, which could reduce the number of births later in the year.
Notably, a similar decline in births from 2019 to 2020 was also observed in several other countries. For example, the United States reported a 4.0% decrease in births, while a 3.9% decrease was reported for England and Wales. France saw a 2.0% decrease in births from 2019 to 2020.
Increase in non-hospital births during the COVID-19 pandemic
COVID-19 has affected prenatal care and birthing practices on a global scale. During the pandemic, there may have been added fears of going into a hospital where COVID-19 patients were being treated, leading more women to choose to birth at home or in a non-medical birthing centre. In Canada, a greater proportion of women gave birth in a non-hospital setting in 2020 than in 2019. This type of trend is not new and has been observed during previous disease outbreaks. According to the Association of Ontario Midwives, there was an increase in demand for midwifery attendance at home births during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Toronto in 2003.
Canada experienced a steady increase in non-hospital births from 2005 to 2015. The number of non-hospital births increased by 113%, from 3,768 (1.1% of all births) in 2005 to 8,013 (2.1% of all births) in 2015. According to the Ontario Choice of Birthplace Survey, the increase may be attributable to the growth of available midwifery services, a desire for low-intervention births and increasing comfort with birth outside the hospital setting. A similar trend was noted in the United States, where the number of births occurring outside of a hospital increased by 63%, from 37,402 (0.9% of all births) in 2005 to 61,041 (1.5% of all births) in 2015.
Before the pandemic, a decline in non-hospital births was noted from 2015 to 2019, after which Canada saw a sharp increase in 2020. Although the number of non-hospital births in 2020 remained lower than numbers from 2014 to 2017, the proportion of non-hospital births in 2020 (2.1%) was the highest it has been in more than a decade. This shift indicates that a greater proportion of women were choosing to give birth in the home, a birthing centre or other facility during the pandemic.
The spike in non-hospital births from 2019 to 2020 was most prominent in Ontario (3,187 in 2019 to 3,861 in 2020) and Alberta (1,462 in 2019 to 1,853 in 2020), each experiencing the greatest number of non-hospital births in over a decade. British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan also noted spikes in 2020.
More non-hospital births in the early pandemic
Although there is always some year-to-year variation in the number of non-hospital births in a given month, the increase in non-hospital births near the beginning of the pandemic was striking. From April to May 2020, there were 1,526 non-hospital births in Canada. This is the highest number of non-hospital births to occur during any two-month period in over a decade. This time frame aligns with the onset of the pandemic, when public health measures were put into place in many provinces and territories to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Note to readers
For 2020, in an effort to be more timely, the duration of data collection has been shortened compared with previous years. The 2020 data are therefore considered preliminary. Data will be revised with subsequent releases.
Preliminary birth and stillbirth counts are based on what is reported to Statistics Canada by provincial and territorial vital statistics registries.
Data for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 births and stillbirths occurring in Yukon are not available. To avoid confusion, data for these same years for births and stillbirths to residents of Yukon that occurred in other provinces and territories were also suppressed.
As a result of delays with birth registrations, fewer births have been captured, to date, for Manitoba in 2020.
Data for France (as of March 2021) come from the Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (Naissances et taux de natalité). Data for the United Kingdom (as of June 2021) come from the United Kingdom Office of National Statistics (Provisional births in England and Wales). Data for the United States (as of June 2021) come from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (change in total number of births from 2019 to 2020, non-hospital births in 2015 and non-hospital births in 2005).
The reasons for choosing a non-hospital birth come from the results of the Ontario Choice of Birthplace Study (2014).
For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).