After falling four years in a row, United States births may finally be levelling off.
The number of babies born last year, a little shy of four million, is only a few hundred less than the number in 2011, according to a government report released recently.
That suggests that lately, fewer couples may be scared away from having children because of the economy or other factors, some experts say. Among the signs of a possible turning point: The birth rate for women in their early 30s inched up for the first time since 2007.
"We may be on a level course or potentially even see a rise" in birth trends in the near future, said Brady Hamilton, a statistician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some are a bit more pessimistic.
"The decline has slowed down, but it's still a decline," said Carol Hogue, an Emory University expert on birth trends.
Falling births is a relatively new phenomenon in this country. Births were on the rise since the late 1990s and hit an all-time high of more than 4.3 million in 2007. The drop that followed was widely attributed to the nation's flagging economy. Experts believed that many women or couples who were out of work or had other money problems felt they couldn't afford to start or add to their family.