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The risk of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mother giving birth to a low birthweight baby has fallen significantly, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

While Indigenous mothers are still twice as likely as non-Indigenous mothers to have babies of low birthweight (12.6% and 6.0% respectively), AIHW analyses showed that the low birthweight rate among babies of Indigenous mothers dropped by almost one tenth (9%) between 2000 and 2011, according to the Birthweight of babies born to Indigenous mothers report.

AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman said that this drop in the low birthweight rate for Indigenous women had led to a significant narrowing of the gap in the low birthweight rate between Indigenous and non-Indigenous mothers over the decade.

Dr Al-Yaman said low birthweight is associated with a range of adverse health outcomes, including fetal and neonatal death and morbidity, and the development of chronic diseases later in life.

According to the report, 11,729 Indigenous mothers gave birth to 11,895 babies in 2011, representing 4% of all babies born in that year. Nearly all (99%) births to Indigenous mothers in 2011 were live births (rather than stillborn)-the same proportion as for births to non-Indigenous mothers.

In 2011, 12.6% of babies born to Indigenous mothers were of low birthweight (less than 2,500 grams), 86.0% were of normal birthweight (between 2,500 grams and 4,499 grams) and 1.4% were of high birthweight (4,500 grams or more).

Dr Al-Yaman said a range of factors were associated with birthweight, including maternal smoking during pregnancy, antenatal care and pre-term births.

'Half of all Indigenous mothers who gave birth in 2011 reported smoking during pregnancy compared with 12% of non-Indigenous mothers. The smoking rate among Indigenous mothers fell from 54% in 2005 to 50% in 2011-with a greater fall in the rate among non-Indigenous mothers-highlighting considerable scope for further improvements ,' Dr Al-Yaman said.

There were also improvements in antenatal care and pre-term births for Indigenous women over the decade. The rate of Indigenous women attending at least one antenatal session increased between 2000 and 2011, while the rate of pre-term births declined.

'In 2011, 12.5% of liveborn babies of Indigenous mothers were born pre-term compared with 7.5% of babies born to non-Indigenous mothers, but the gap between the two had narrowed over the decade,' Dr Al-Yaman said.

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, 5 August 2014

Further information: Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman, tel. (02) 6244 1167 or (02) 6244 1146, mob. 0407 068 033 (for after-hours contact only)

Full publication: Birthweight of babies born to Indigenous mothers