Snapshot of risk factors for First Nations mothers and babies

  • Mother with baby at sunset

[Image: Melissa McCord]

Danae Cotter
By
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Danae Cotter,
Perinatal Data Unit
Issue
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The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has recently released the first comprehensive report on First Nations mothers and babies in over 15 years.

The report includes important evidence on risk factors and health outcomes that can be used to inform policies to help improve health and welfare outcomes for First Nations mothers and babies, including those who live in rural, regional and remote areas.

In 2020, there were 14,605 babies born to 14,384 First Nations mothers in Australia and the birth rate was 75 per 1,000 First Nations females of reproductive age (15 to 44 years).

The birth rate for First Nations females varied considerably by Indigenous region (IREG), from 106 per 1,000 in Mount Isa, Queensland, to 44 per 1,000 in Jabiru–Tiwi, Northern Territory.

In 2020, 11 per cent of First Nations mothers lived in very remote areas and 7.4 per cent lived in remote areas, compared with 0.4 per cent and 1.1 per cent, respectively, of non-Indigenous mothers.

Over time, the proportion of First Nations mothers who lived in very remote areas has declined (from 15 per cent in 2012 to 11 per cent in 2020), while there has been a corresponding increase in those living in major cities (from 31 per cent in 2012 to 37 per cent in 2020).

Access to culturally safe antenatal care is an important part of ensuring First Nations mothers are well supported throughout pregnancy, and that their babies are born healthy and strong. In 2020:

  • 71 per cent of First Nations mothers accessed antenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy
  • 87 per cent of First Nations mothers had five or more antenatal care visits
  • 87 per cent of babies of First Nations mothers were born with a healthy birthweight
  • 86 per cent of babies of First Nations mothers were born at term.

First Nations mothers who lived in remote and very remote areas were less likely to have accessed antenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy (63 per cent and 64 per cent, respectively) than First Nations mothers who lived in major cities (70 per cent) and regional areas (73 per cent). Additionally, First Nations mothers who lived in remote areas were slightly less likely to have five or more antenatal care visits (85 per cent, compared with 88 per cent for all other remoteness areas).

When compared with those living in non-remote areas, First Nations mothers who lived in remote areas also had higher proportions of smoking during pregnancy, being aged under 20, being underweight and living with diabetes. First Nations mothers who lived in remote areas were also more likely to give birth to a baby who was pre-term, of low birthweight or small for gestational age.

First Nations women living in remote areas can experience poorer health outcomes, which are compounded by factors related to geographic isolation, such as poorer access to appropriate housing, essential services and employment opportunities (AIHW 2020).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and babies can be accessed in full on the AIHW website.

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