In 2023, for the first time in over a decade, Travis County’s population grew due to the number of people born within its bounds—not because of the people moving there.

For that year, Travis County’s population increased by about 7,400 people. With a net migration of -2,411, this increase comes from an estimated 16,289 births countywide.

Despite the modest increase of 270 births from 2022 to 2023, there is a growing demand for maternal care in the area. Statewide staffing pressures point to a strain in Austin’s maternal resources, even as hospital groups work to expand space for care.

“There are times when inductions are being held because there’s too many people coming in in labor,” said Dr. Margaret Whitney, an OB-GYN with Women’s Health and UT Health. “There’s no bed, or there’s no nurse, so I think that’s probably the more palpable bottleneck across the board.”

In a nutshell

The Department of State Health Services estimates that by 2030, Texas will fall about 1,600 practitioners short of the demand for obstetricians and gynecologists as fewer students are completing OB-GYN residencies.

Whitney said the dwindling pool of applicants for these residency programs raises concerns for her regarding quality of care.

At the same time, in 2022, Texas saw its first year-to-year increase in births since 2014, according to a report from the University of Houston, which attributes the increase to the 2021 passing of a state ban on nearly all abortions after six weeks.

Patients could face longer wait times, also as a result of increased births, Whitney said.
Zooming in

In recent years, area hospital systems have renovated and expanded existing square footage dedicated to women’s care and increased the number of beds available in high-needs areas.

In 2023, St. David’s Austin Medical Center added two rooms intended for post-operative recovery. At the hospital system’s South Austin Medical Center, another 11 rooms were renovated for postpartum care, and several rooms have been converted to delivery and recovery.

A representative of St. David’s HealthCare said these expansions were based on increases in demand for maternal care, as well as the growing population of Travis County.

“Our most complex women’s services programs at St. David’s Women’s Center of Texas and St. David’s Medical Center have seen tremendous growth,” the representative shared via email with Community Impact. “Additionally, St. David’s South Austin Medical Center continues to grow as the region south of Austin continues to develop.

Put in perspective

Austin-based Midwife Julia Bower, has been providing prenatal, home birth and postpartum care for mothers in the area for 27 years.

While Bower specializes mainly in home births, she will help transfer a client to a hospital if they are experiencing complications or otherwise need additional intervention during labor.

Bower said her most frequented labor and delivery unit, St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, has been busy in the last few years.

Similarly, Kelly Pedrozo, a doula with ATX Doulas, said she finds some of her clients have experienced longer waits based on nursing staff and OB-GYN availability.

Sasha Robey, a patient of Austin Area Obstetrics, Gynecology and Fertility, said she was able to secure an initial appointment with a provider at the practice by opting to see a nurse practitioner overseen by an OB-GYN.

Later, when she was planning her pregnancy, she chose to stay within the practice but changed to a newer provider who was in less demand than other well-established OB-GYNs within the clinic.

“​​It worked out really well, but I think it was really because I’d kind of planned ahead,” Robey said. “I’m not sure it would have worked out like that if I didn’t already have an annual appointment schedule that I could just switch over to a different type of appointment."
The takeaway

Local hospital systems have several expansions to prenatal, maternity and gynecological care in various stages of completion to meet the needs of the growing population of Travis County.

Whitney said an uptick in babies born could prompt the need for more niche specialties and treatment for birth defects and abnormalities.