Some Hawke's Bay women are waiting so long for the "perfect partner" they are having to get IVF treatment to have children, a local midwife says.
The 2013 births and deaths figures, released yesterday by Statistics NZ, show Hawke's Bay mothers gave birth to 2159 babies, nearly 80 fewer than the previous year.
The number of people who died in the region also dropped to 1270.
The trend towards older child-bearing across the country continued, with women aged 35 to 39 having more babies than women aged 20 to 24 for the first time, Statistics NZ said.
Women in the 30-34 age bracket had the highest fertility rate.
Hawke's Bay midwife Angelika Mollman said high rates of local teenage pregnancy meant the region likely bucked the national trend.
"I am finding I'm getting some women who are leaving it later to have children [because] they're choosing their career first before they start their family. But I've also got teenage mums."
There was also an expectation women would find the "perfect" relationship before starting a family.
"Our expectation of having just the right partner makes that sometimes a bit difficult."
Many older women were opting for IVF because they had waited so long it had affected their fertility, she said.
According to Statistics NZ, Kiwi mothers gave birth to 58,717 babies last year - a 4 per cent drop from 2012.
The number of deaths also fell slightly to 29,568 last year.
New Zealand's natural increase - live births minus deaths - was the lowest since 2003.
University of Otago sociologist Bryndl Hohmann-Marriott said the rise in the number of older mothers was a continuing trend.
"New Zealand actually has one of the oldest ages of first birth in the developed world."
Once considered high-risk, births in the 35-39 age bracket were now much better managed - and much more common.
Despite the slowing birth rate, the number of babies born here was still high compared with other developed nations, she said.
But a European trend towards fewer children could catch on here, Dr Hohmann-Marriott said.
"In a lot of those European countries like Italy, Spain and Germany where they're having so few children, people just don't want them anymore.
"For the first time there's a huge number of people who don't want any children at all.
"It's so difficult and so expensive to have [children]."
Slowing birth rates in Europe could largely be attributed to changing lifestyle priorities and the global financial crisis, she said, with uncertainty putting more people off having kids.
New Zealand's housing shortage could also be influencing people's decision not to have children, she said.
Statistics NZ analyst Anne Howard said fluctuations in birth rates could be a "challenge" for planners and schools.
"When you look at 2008 when we had 64,343 births, and now we've got 58,717, that's quite a big difference when you start working out the numbers of teachers and class sizes," she said.
"It certainly has implications for education and service providers."