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The proportion of teenage mothers in Australia is falling, with a drop from 4.9% to 3.7% of all mothers between 2002 and 2011, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Australia's mothers and babies 2011, shows teenage births have a range of increased health risks compared with other births.

'Teenage mothers are more likely to have smoked during pregnancy-of all teenage mothers, almost 36% reported smoking during pregnancy, compared with 13% of all mothers,' said AIHW spokesperson Professor Elizabeth Sullivan.

'Teenage mothers also have higher proportions of low birthweight babies compared with women in other age groups and the highest fetal, neonatal and perinatal death rates.'

Indigenous mothers were more likely to be teenagers than non-Indigenous mothers-around 19% of Indigenous mothers were teenagers compared with 3% of non-Indigenous mothers.

The report shows that in 2011, a total of 297,126 women gave birth to 301,810 babies. This was a small rise in the total number of births compared with 2010 (almost 1%) and a rise of over 18% since 2002.

'The average age of women having their first baby has increased steadily from 27.6 years in 2002 to 28.3 years in 2011,' Professor Sullivan said.

The caesarean section rate has shown an upward trend in the 10 years to 2011, rising from 27% to a peak of just over 32% between 2002 and 2011.

'Caesarean section rates increased with advancing maternal age,' Professor Sullivan said.

'In 2011, caesarean section rates ranged from 18% for teenage mothers to 49% for mothers aged 40 and over.'

Repeat caesarean sections occurred for 84% of mothers with a history of caesarean section. About 1 in 8 mothers who had previously had a caesarean section had a subsequent non-instrumental vaginal birth.

For Indigenous mothers, the caesarean section rate was 27%, significantly lower than for non-Indigenous mothers (32%).

'This may be partially explained by the younger age of Indigenous mothers of 25.3 years compared to 30.2 years for non-Indigenous mothers,' Professor Sullivan said.

In 2011, just over 6% of liveborn babies were of low birthweight (less than 2,500 grams), and among mothers who smoked during pregnancy the proportion of low birthweight babies was nearly double (11%).

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 19 December 2013

Further information: Professor Elizabeth Sullivan, AIHW, tel. (02) 9382 1064, mob. 0439 994 820

Full publication: Australia's mothers and babies 2011