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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin
 

Births and pregnancy outcome

Births and pregnancy outcome

In 2014, there were 17,779 births registered in Australia with one or both parents identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander (5.9% of all births registered) [1]. This probably underestimates the true number slightly as Indigenous status is not always identified, and there may be a lag in birth registrations. The ABS estimates that 96% of Indigenous births in 2002-2006 were correctly identified [2]. Completeness of identification varied across the country, with only Vic, Qld, WA, SA and the NT having levels above 90%.

In 2014, both parents identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in 29% of those registered as Indigenous; only the mother in 43% (including births where paternity was not acknowledged and those where the father's Indigenous status was unknown); and only the father in 28% (including births where the mother's Indigenous status was unknown) [1].

Box 2: About births and fertility

In Australia, all births are required by law to be registered with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the jurisdiction in which the birth occurred. The registration information is limited from a health perspective so health authorities have established parallel maternal/perinatal collections. These collections are based on data recorded by staff attending births and include information about the nature, duration, and complications of the pregnancy, labour, and postnatal periods, and details about the baby (including weight, length, condition at birth, and complications). Information is collated and reported nationally by the ABS (for registration information) and the AIHW’s National Perinatal Statistics Unit (for maternal/perinatal information).

The actual numbers of births are of limited use for public health purposes. To be useful, the actual numbers of births must be related to the population in which they occur. There are a number of general measures of births and fertility, but detailed analysis involves the use of age-specific rates.1 These rates are the annual number of births per 1,000 women in five-year age-groups from 15 to 44 years. (The relatively small numbers of births to women aged less than 15 years are included in the 15-19 years age-group.) The summary measure of fertility is the total fertility rate, which is the sum of age-specific fertility rates multiplied by five (since five-year age-groups are involved). It estimates the number of children that would be born to 1,000 women if each woman experienced current age-specific fertility rates at each age of her reproductive life.

Age of mothers

In 2014, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women had more babies and had them at younger ages than non-Indigenous women; teenagers had 17% of the babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, compared with only 3.1% of those born to all mothers [1]. The median age of Indigenous mothers was 25.1 years, compared with 30.9 years for all mothers. The highest birth rates (known technically as fertility rates) were for the 20-24 years age-group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and for the 30-34 years age-group for all women (Table 2). The fertility rate of teenage Indigenous women (57.3 babies per 1,000 women) was over four times that of all teenage women (13 babies per 1,000).

Table 2. Age-specific fertility rates, by Indigenous status of mother, selected jurisdictions, Australia, 2014

Age-group of mother (years)

Jurisdiction

NSW

Vic

Qld

WA

SA

NT

Australia

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers

15-19

44

34

62

88

49

83

57

20-24

103

110

136

174

121

126

125

25-29

112

109

130

143

109

100

119

30-34

84

88

89

100

73

72

85

35-39

44

62

54

54

47

34

48

40-44

9.3

16

12

12

7.4

9.4

11

All mothers

15-19

11

8.4

18

15

13

43

13

20-24

43

38

61

55

49

93

48

25-29

91

87

107

99

103

104

96

30-34

117

123

119

122

126

106

120

35-39

69

75

63

70

67

60

69

40-44

15

16

13

14

13

13

14

Notes:

  1. Rates per 1,000 women in each age-group; the 15-19 years age-group includes births by girls aged 14 years or younger. Figures are not provided for the 45-49 years age-group because of the small numbers involved
  2. Figures are not provided for Tas and the ACT because of the small numbers involved and doubts about the level of identification of Indigenous births, but numbers for these jurisdictions are included in figures for Australia

Source: ABS, 2015 [1]

Total fertility rates

In 2014, total fertility rates were 2,222 births per 1,000 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and 1,804 per 1,000 for all women (Table 3) [1]. The highest total fertility rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was for those in WA (2,863 babies per 1,000 women), followed by Qld (2,412 per 1,000) and the NT (2,121 per 1,000).

Table 3. Total fertility rates, by Indigenous status of mother, selected jurisdictions, Australia, 2014

Status of mother

Jurisdiction

NSW

Vic

Qld

WA

SA

NT

Australia

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers

1,976

2,091

2,412

2,863

2,031

2,121

2,222

All mothers

1,733

1,736

1,909

1,878

1,858

2,104

1,804

Notes:

  1. Total fertility rate is the number of children born to 1,000 women at the current level and age pattern of fertility (see Box 2)
  2. Figures are not provided for Tas and the ACT because of the small numbers involved and doubts about the level of identification of Indigenous births. Numbers for those jurisdictions are included in figures for Australia

Source: ABS, 2015 [1]

Birthweights

The average birthweight of babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers in 2013 was 3,200 grams, 161 grams less than the average for babies born to non-Indigenous mothers (3,361 grams) [3]. Of these babies, 12% (1,507) were of low birthweight (LBW), compared with 6.1% (18,045) of babies of non-Indigenous mothers. (LBW, defined as a birthweight of less than 2,500 grams, increases the risk of health problems and death in infancy.)

Also:

LBW for babies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers ranged from 12% of babies in major cities to 14% in very remote areas. Details for jurisdictions are available for 2012, when babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were nearly twice as likely to be of LBW (12%) than those born to non-Indigenous women (6.0%). The proportions of LBW babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were highest in the ACT (15%)2, SA (15%), and WA (15%) [4]. The proportions of babies of LBW were higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers than for all mothers in all jurisdictions (Table 4).

Table 4. Mean birthweights and percentage of low birthweight for babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and all mothers, selected jurisdictions, Australia, 2012

 

NSW

Vic

Qld

WA

SA

Tas

ACT

NT

Australia

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers

Mean birthweight

3,245

3,298

3,233

3,128

3,131

3,313

3,133

3,128

3,211

% low birthweight

11

10

11

15

15

11

15

14

12

All mothers

Mean birthweight

3,369

3,369

3,380

3,352

3,338

3,382

3,352

3,303

3,367

% low birthweight

5.7

6.1

6.6

6.1

7.2

7.1

7.4

8.2

6.2

Note: LBW is defined as less than 2,500 grams

Source: Hilder L, Zhichao Z, Parker M, Jahan S, Chambers GM, 2014 [4]

Risk factors for LBW include pre-term birth, socioeconomic disadvantage, the age of the mother, and antenatal care [5]. A mother's alcohol consumption and use of tobacco and other drugs during pregnancy also impact on the birthweight of her baby. Tobacco, in particular, has a major impact on birthweight. In 2013, almost half (48%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and 13% of non-Indigenous mothers reported smoking during pregnancy [3].

The impact of tobacco smoking during pregnancy can be seen in the proportions of LBW babies; in 2009, the proportion of LBW babies was twice as high among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers who smoked during pregnancy (15%) than among those who did not smoke during pregnancy (7.8%) [6]. Similarly, 9.7% of babies born to non-Indigenous mothers who smoked were of LBW, compared with less than 4.5% of those whose mothers did not smoke. In 2009–2011, excluding pre-term and multiple births, 51% of LBW births to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers were attributable to smoking, compared with 19% for other mothers [7]. It has been estimated that if the smoking rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pregnant women was the same as it was for other mothers, the proportion of LBW babies could be reduced by up to 26%.

References

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) Births, Australia, 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2015 from http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/3301.0Main+Features12014?OpenDocument
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007) Births, Australia, 2006. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics
  3. Eldridge D, Johnson D, Sedgwick K (2015) Australia's mothers and babies 2013: in brief. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  4. Hilder L, Zhichao Z, Parker M, Jahan S, Chambers GM (2014) Australia’s mothers and babies 2012. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2014) Birthweight of babies born to Indigenous mothers. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2013) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework 2012: detailed analyses. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  7. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2015) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework 2014 report: detailed analyses. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Endnotes

  1. The study of birth information is known as fertility analysis, where ‘fertility’ refers to the number of babies born alive. This meaning is different to the lay use of the word, which means the capacity to bear children. The technical term for the capacity to bear children is ‘fecundity’.
  2. Information about LBW babies in the ACT includes information of non-ACT residents (24% of Indigenous women who gave birth in the ACT were non-residents). In 2012, 6.5% of babies born to Indigenous women who were ACT residents were of LBW.
 

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    Last updated: 5 April 2016
     
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