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Cuba to Women: Please Have More Babies

 / Updated 
In this Oct. 22, 2014 photo, a pregnant woman a pregnant woman drinks a soft drink at the entrance of a special maternity unit for high-risk pregnancies in Havana, Cuba. The island nation has long prided itself on care of pregnant women and newborns, and officials often boast of an infant mortality rate lower than that of the United States. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)Ramon Espinosa / AP

The Cuban government is encouraging women to have babies and turn around its falling birth rate, which is now the lowest in Latin America.

Authorities announced this week they will soon be unveiling financial incentives for couples who are thinking of starting a family. The government has already expanded maternity, and in some cases paternity leave, to a full year with pay. In addition, Cuba has opened dozens of special centers for infertile couples and special maternity units where women can live full time during high-risk pregnancies.

"We've been evaluating this low birth rate for years," said Roberto Alvarez Fumero, chief of the maternity and child health unit at Cuba's Ministry of Health. "Now we're taking action to improve sexual and reproductive health, which can help drive up the country's birth rate."

The average Cuban woman had nearly five children in the 1960s but the birth rate has fallen to less than two children since the late 1970s. Due to decades of fewer births, the number of working-age people in Cuba is expected to shrink starting next year, which is bad news for an island trying to improve its economy.

In socialist Cuba, the decades-long falling birthrate is attributed to several things, including more women in the workforce, wider access to contraception and abortion, a tough economy, housing shortages and high levels of emigration among young people.

 In this Oct. 27, 2014 photo, several pregnant women take the elevator to go to the dining room at a special maternity unit in Havana, Cuba. The average Cuban woman had nearly five children in the 1960's but that number dropped below the replacement rate of two children per woman in 1978 and hasn’t recovered since. Ramon Espinosa / AP