The first Covid lockdown last March triggered a 10 per cent decline in the number of babies being born, official figures show. 

Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown on March 23 last year, and nine months later, in December, the number of births in England and Wales had declined from 54.5 per 1,000 women in December 2019 to 50.1 per 1,000 women in 2020 — an 8.1 per cent drop. 

But the effect was more strongly felt in January this year because the lockdown was in place for all of April 2020. As a result, the total number of births dropped to 53.9 per 1,000 women in January, 10.2 per cent lower than in the same month last year.

Peter Synowiec, of the Office for National Statistics, said: "In the months of December 2020 and January 2021 we saw relatively steep decreases in monthly fertility rates when compared with the same months a year ago – 8.1 per cent and 10.2 per cent respectively. 

"Live births occurring in these months relate to live births that would have mostly been conceived during the first lockdown in 2020, suggesting there was no baby boom as a result of the restrictions first put in place for Covid-19."

During the pandemic, it had been speculated that there would be a spike in births in nine months time due to couples being cooped up together. However, the raw figures show the opposite was true, and the number of births plummeted to record lows. 

Birth rates in the UK

In December last year and January and February this, there were a combined 141,601 live births. For the same time period 12 months previous, there were 11,000 more births. 

Another metric in the statistical arsenal of the ONS is total fertility rate (TFR), which gives a number for the amount of children per woman. Since records began, this figure was highest in 1964 at 2.93, but dropped rapidly after abortion was legalised in 1968.

In the last 45 years, it peaked at 1.94 in 2012. But it has been steadily declining year-on-year since then, and was estimated to be 1.65 in 2019, close to the all-time low of 1.63 in 2001. 

The ONS revealed on Thursday that the figure for 2020 was 1.58 – a record low. However, the estimate for the first three months of 2021, which accounts for the impact of the pandemic, is even lower at 1.53.

"As the 2021 TFR is only based on one quarter of births data, we will continue to monitor changes throughout the year," the ONS said. "Although not directly comparable to our final annual birth statistics these provisional TFRs could suggest we will see the lowest TFR ever recorded once final 2020 data are compiled later this year."

Annual births peaked 100 years ago

However, the data also show that the easing of restrictions last summer, when the Government allowed couples in separate homes to stay overnight, led to a spike in births in March this year. 

There was a year-on-year increase in the fertility rate for March of 1.7 per cent. However, the 52,473 children born in this month, although higher than in 2020, is still below every other March for the past decade. 

The figures also show that the total number of live births in England and Wales in 2020 fell for the fifth successive year in a row. Some 615,557 live births took place during the year, down four per cent on 2019, and a drop of 16 per cent from the recent peak of 730,883 births in 2012.

There were 2,429 stillbirths in England and Wales last year, the equivalent of 3.9 per 1,000 births, the ONS said.