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Moscow News
February 8, 2008
From Crisis to Baby Boom
Russia witnesses its highest birth rate in 25 years

By Anna Arutunyan

With Moscow leading the way, Russia is now dramatically reversing a decade-long drop in its national birthrate. Not only were 122,750 more births registered in 2007 than in 2006, but the number of children born last year was the highest since 1991.

The heartening announcements were made Friday by the newly appointed Minister for Health and Social Development, Tatyana Golikova. "In 2007, 1,602,387 children were born, which represents a growth of 122,750 children compared to 2006," she was quoted by news agencies as saying. "We have not seen such a growth in birth rate in 25 years."

The numbers appear to vindicate a series of aggressive policies undertaken by the nation's health authorities in battling dire demographic figures. Russia has been steadily losing inhabitants since 1993, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union heralded a decade of turmoil and economic instability. Since then, the country had shrunk by some 5.8 million inhabitants.

Officials attributed the turning tide to new policies and increased economic stability. Last year, a law went into effect granting mothers $11,000 for the birth of their second child, while maternity leave payments and benefits for first-time mothers have increased as well. A mother can expect the government to pay at least 40 percent of her salary for two months prior to the birth of a child and two months after. If she chooses to opt out of work afterwards, she is paid up to $300 per month for the next 18 months.

"It definitely has to do with improvements in living standards and economic factors," says Alexandra Goldina, a perenatal psychologist who counsels expectant couples and accompanies women as a labor coach. "The baby boom I've witnessed over the last five to six years has spread beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg."

Goldina, who also keeps tabs on maternity hospitals and medical programs in the capital, told The Moscow News that having more children has even become something of a status symbol.

"In Moscow, first it was simply in vogue to have two children, but now it's the norm. The more successful the man of the family is, the more children the family feels it's supposed to have. And if this used to apply mostly to Moscow, it's spreading to the regions now as well."

In particular, Goldina says, the maternity incentive for the second child has definitely played a positive role. "After the law came into force, women started getting pregnant for the second time nine, ten, thirteen years after their first child." Health authorities have announced recently that the incentive will be increased to $12,000 by 2010.

More births, meanwhile, mean new attitudes. According to Goldina, more and more men are lining up to help their wives give birth, while the medical establishment is learning to welcome the trend. In Moscow, the number of contracted births - meaning that a woman pays a hospital in order to have her spouse present and generally has a say in the medical procedures - have increased drastically. But so has the price. "Presently, the average price of a contract is about 50,000 rubles [just over $2,000], while five years ago it was about 12,000 rubles."

In a medical culture where pregnancy and birth have succumbed to stringent medical regulation, what that signals is that expectant mothers and families are taking a more proactive approach in pushing for more natural births. With making ends meet and finding a place to live no longer such a pressing priority, many parents are opting for more novel ways to give birth.

The government, meanwhile, is catching on as well. In an effort to help couples hampered by infertility, the government of the republic of Tartarstan, for instance, has launched a family planning clinic that subsidizes two-thirds of the costs of fertility treatment.

"Fifteen years ago we saw deaths exceed the number of births - we are reversing this trend. 3,500 more births last year and 500 fewer deaths - we need to keep on making progress," Ayrat Farrakhov, the Tatarstan Health Minister told the Russia Today channel.