American women are having fewer babies and having them later, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. The mean number of births by women ages 15 to 49 from 2015 to 2019 was 1.3.
Why the baby bust?
There are many reasons people delay or decide not to have children. For example, women now have more reliable contraception options and are much more involved in the labor force than past generations.
A growing reason for child-rearing hesitancy seems to be concern about climate change. A recent survey found that about a quarter of Americans say climate change affects their decisions on major life events, including whether to have a child.
But one extremely practical reason some women might put off having a child is because it is becoming increasingly difficult to get ahold of the basic items necessary for young children.
There are tons of baby gadgets and gizmos that are supposed to help parents, from the SNOO that will rock a child back to sleep to wake clocks that light up when a child is allowed to get out of bed in the morning. But there are a few basics that every baby needs: nourishment, diapers, clothes, and possibly medicine.
Parents last year faced a shortage of two of those indispensable goods: formula and medicine.
Formula shortages over the past year have been widely reported. After the Food and Drug Administration shut down the Abbott Laboratories plant in Michigan for a contamination investigation, a shortage ensued. Supply chain problems also contributed to the backlog. The baby formula out-of-stock rate hit 40% in April of last year — a fact that became obvious to parents who desperately searched the empty shelves at grocery stores for the product their babies needed.
The shortage of basic medicines such as infant Motrin and Tylenol hasn’t received as much attention, but it’s important too. Part of the shortage is due to demand. With the flu season coming early, and the continued risk of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and COVID, there is more demand for these over-the-counter medicines. In December, for example, 76% of pediatric hospital beds were full nationally, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Some pharmacies have taken the step of limiting how many bottles of medicine customers can buy. Hugh Chancy, the president of the National Community Pharmacists Association, representing more than 19,000 independent pharmacies, told NBC, “I’ve been practicing for 34 years, and this is the first time that I’ve ever had to worry about being able to recommend Tylenol, Advil or Motrin.”
No mother should have to lose sleep over whether or not she’ll be able to find the over-the-counter medicine her young child needs. I had one night of this recently, and it was awful. I searched my local stores, national retailers, and Amazon. Amazon had some available at a huge markup and in an untimely fashion. Fortunately, the bottle I still had got my family through the worst.
One way to encourage young adults to have children is to not make being a parent needlessly more difficult. Leaders need to get better at anticipating and effectively addressing shortages. Families are depending on it.