In 2011, there were 17,621 births registered in Australia with one or both parents identified as Indigenous (6% of all births registered) . This figure 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 as such . Completeness of identification varied across the country, with only Vic, Qld, WA, SA and the NT having levels above 90%.
In 2011, both parents identified as Indigenous in 31% of Indigenous registered births . Only the mother identified as Indigenous in 42% of Indigenous registered births (including births where paternity was not acknowledged and those where the father's Indigenous status was unknown), and only the father identified as Indigenous in 27% (including births where the mother's Indigenous status was unknown).
In 2011, Indigenous women had more babies and had them at younger ages than did non-Indigenous women – teenagers had one-fifth (19%) of the babies born to Indigenous women, compared with only 3.8% of those born to all mothers . The median age of Indigenous mothers was 24.8 years, compared with 30.6 years for all mothers. The highest birth rates (known technically as fertility rates) were for the 20-24 years age-group for Indigenous women and in the 30-34 years age-group for all women (Table 2). The fertility rate of teenage Indigenous women (78 babies per 1,000 women) was almost five times that of all teenage women (16 babies per 1,000).
|Status of mother/age-group (years)||Jurisdiction|
|Source: ABS, 2012 |
In 2011, total fertility rates were 2,740 births per 1,000 for Indigenous women and 1,884 per 1,000 for all women (Table 3) . The highest total fertility rate for Indigenous women was for WA (3,011 babies per 1,000 women), followed by Qld (2,932 per 1,000) and NSW (2,863 per 1,000).
|Status of mother||Jurisdiction|
|Source: ABS, 2011 |
The average birthweight of babies born to Indigenous mothers in 2010 was 3,190 grams, almost 190 grams less than the average for babies born to non-Indigenous mothers (3,376 grams) . Babies born to Indigenous women in 2010 were twice as likely to be of low birthweight (LBW) (12.0%) than were those born non-Indigenous women (6.0%). (LBW, defined as a birthweight of less than 2,500 grams, increases the risk of death in infancy and other health problems.)
The LBW proportions for babies born to Indigenous women were highest in SA (16.0%), the NT (13.8%), and WA (13.6%). LBW proportions were higher for Indigenous mothers than for all mothers in all jurisdictions (Table 4) .
|Source: Li, Zeki, Hilder, and Sullivan, 2012 |
|% low birthweight||10.7||10.3||11.5||13.6||16.0||13.8||12.0|
|% low birthweight||5.8||6.3||6.4||6.1||6.8||8.8||6.2|
Risk factors for LBW include socioeconomic disadvantage, the size and age of the mother, the number of babies previously born, the mother's nutritional status, illness during pregnancy, and duration of the pregnancy . A mother's alcohol consumption and use of tobacco and other drugs during pregnancy also impact on the size of her baby.
Tobacco, in particular, has a major impact on birthweight. The mean birthweight of live babies born in 2001-2004 to Indigenous women who smoked was 3,037 grams, more than 250 grams lighter than those born to Indigenous women who did not smoke (3,290 grams) . The comparable figures for live babies born to non-Indigenous women were 3,210 for women who smoked and 3,416 grams, for women who did not smoke. The impact of tobacco smoking during pregnancy can also be seen also in the proportions of LBW liveborn babies; in 2007 the proportion of LBW babies was twice as high among Indigenous mothers who smoked during pregnancy (16%) as among Indigenous mothers who did not smoke during pregnancy (8.2%) . Similarly, 10% of babies born to non-Indigenous mothers who smoked were of LBW, compared with 5.0% of those whose non-Indigenous mothers did not smoke. In 2009, half (50%) of Indigenous mothers and 13% of non-Indigenous mothers reported smoking during pregnancy .
The 2000-2001 Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey (WAACHS) reported slightly higher average birthweights than the weights documented above – 3,110 grams for babies born to Indigenous mothers who used tobacco in pregnancy and 3,310 grams for those whose Indigenous mothers did not . The lowest average birthweights reported in the WAACHS were for babies whose Indigenous mothers used marijuana with tobacco (3,000 grams) or marijuana with both tobacco and alcohol (2,940 grams).