Focus on mothers and babies in remote areas

  • Baby foot on mothers hand
Denae Cotter
By
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Denae Cotter,
Perinatal Data Unit
Issue
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Most expectant mothers in remote areas of Australia have uncomplicated pregnancies and healthy babies but the latest two-yearly national health report card highlights some of the unique challenges they face.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report, Australia’s health 2022, includes a special chapter about mothers who lived in remote areas and their babies.

Compared with women who lived in regional areas and major cities, mothers who lived in remote areas in 2019 were more likely to:

  • Figure 9.2: Proportion of women who gave birth and lived in remote areas, by maternal age, 2012 and 2019be aged under 20 (7.2 per cent, compared with 3.3 per cent in regional areas and 1.3 per cent in major cities)
  • identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians (39 per cent, compared with 9.2 per cent in regional areas and 2.3 per cent in major cities)
  • live in the lowest socioeconomic areas (36 per cent, compared with 28 per cent in regional areas and 17 per cent in major cities).

Some of the data in this chapter has since been updated, following the release in July of the latest issue of Australia’s mothers and babies, which shows mainly similar trends.

In 2020, 2.3 per cent (6,633) of women who gave birth in that calendar year lived in remote areas.

In 2020, women who lived in remote areas had higher rates of behavioural risk factors, with 26 per cent smoking at any time during pregnancy (compared with 15 per cent in regional areas and 6.9 per cent in major cities). Women who lived in remote areas were also more likely to drink alcohol in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy (6.7 per cent) and after 20 weeks of pregnancy (3.2 per cent) than women who lived in regional areas (2.7 and 1.0 per cent, respectively) and major cities (2.5 and 0.6 per cent, respectively). Note that data on alcohol consumption excludes New South Wales.

Access to maternity care was a potential issue for women who lived in remote areas. These women were more likely to have their first antenatal visit after 20 weeks’ gestation (14 per cent, compared with 7.0 per cent for regional areas and 7.6 per cent for major cities).

Additionally, the Australia’s health 2022 chapter stated that, in 2016, 36 per cent of the estimated resident population of women of reproductive age who lived in remote areas recorded a drive time of more than two hours to the nearest public birthing facility.

Figure 9.8: Proportion of women who gave birth and had an induced labour, by remoteness area, 2019Women who lived in remote areas had similar rates of instrumental vaginal birth as women who lived in regional areas (8.3 and 10 per cent, respectively) and the same rates of induced labour and caesarean section birth (both 35 per cent). Comparatively, women who lived in major cities had higher rates of these interventions (13, 36 and 38 per cent, respectively).

Similar patterns in access to the first antenatal visit and time to the nearest birthing facility were seen for Indigenous mothers who lived in remote areas and Indigenous mothers who lived in regional areas and major cities.

In 2020, babies born to mothers who lived in remote areas were slightly more likely to be born pre-term (12 per cent) than babies in regional areas (9.0 per cent) and major cities (8.0 per cent). Additionally, liveborn babies born to mothers who lived in remote areas were more likely to be of low birthweight (9.9 per cent) than babies born in regional areas (6.8 per cent) or major cities (6.3 per cent).

As Partyline readers know, the 7 million Australians who live in regional and remote areas often have poorer outcomes than people living in metropolitan areas.

Australia’s health also includes data on health outcomes for women and men living in regional and remote areas, including life expectancy and potentially preventable deaths.

The AIHW produces this data to provide policymakers and service providers with a strong evidence base to support decisions leading to better health and welfare outcomes for all Australians.

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