OTTAWA - Women across most of Canada had babies at a higher rate and a later age in 2007, an increase that child-care advocates say will continue to fray the national patchwork of early education.
Statistics Canada reported Tuesday that 367,864 babies were born in 2007 - 13,247 or 3.7 per cent more than in 2006.
That's the fastest annual increase since 1989.
Improved maternity and parental benefits that allow parents to stay home with newborns longer have helped, said Jody Dallaire of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada.
But the vast majority of those parents want or need to return to full-time work once that support dries up, she said. And they often face intense stress finding safe, reliable child care that is also affordable.
"It's going to be tough for those families to balance their life and work responsibilities," she said.
It's not unusual for unsubsidized child care to cost about $1,200 a month - if you can find it.
The number of new spaces has shrunk since the Harper government cut child-care funding to the provinces, Dallaire said.
The number of births rose in all age groups, particularly among mothers aged 30 to 34, and in every province and territory except Prince Edward Island and Yukon, says StatsCan.
Total fertility rates, or the average number of children per woman, increased to 1.66 in 2007 from 1.59 in 2006.
While this was the highest total fertility rate since 1992, StatsCan says it remained well below the level of 2.1 children per woman needed to offset deaths.
That is the fertility rate that must be maintained to replace the population in the absence of migration.
The upward trend is not unique to Canada. In recent years, total fertility rates rose in other countries including Spain, Sweden, Britain and Australia.
The number of babies born in 2007 was the highest since 1995 and the fifth straight annual increase.
Women aged 30 and over were the main contributors to the increase in births. In 2007, they were responsible for 56 per cent of the increase.
Four provinces - Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia - accounted for 83 per cent of the total increase in births.
Nunavut had the highest fertility in the country, 2.97 children per woman. Among the provinces, Saskatchewan women had the highest total fertility rate, 2.03.
In contrast, Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest fertility rate, 1.46.