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For the first time in five years, there has been an increase in the rate of births in Australia, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Australia's mothers and babies 2012, shows that a total of 307,474 women gave birth to 312,153 babies in 2012, a 3.4% increase from 2011 and a 21.5% increase since 2003.

The overall birth rate of women aged 15 to 44 years was 65.0 per 1,000 women which is the highest rate in the last decade and similar to the birth rate of 64.9 per 1,000 women in 2007. An estimated 4% of women who gave birth received assisted reproductive technology in the 5 jurisdictions for which data on ART were available.

The average age of mothers in Australia steadily increased, from 29.5 years in 2003 to 30.1 years in 2012.

'About 42% of women who gave birth in 2012 had their first baby, and the average age for first time mothers was 28.4 years,' said Dr Georgina Chambers, of the AIHW National Perinatal Epidemiology and Statistics Unit.

'Over the last decade the proportion of older women giving birth continued to rise, while the proportion of teenage births continued to fall. Mothers aged 35 years and older made up more than 22.4% of all women giving birth in 2012 compared to 18.8% in 2003. Conversely teenage births declined from 4.6% in 2003 to 3.6% in 2012.'

In 2012, 4% of women who gave birth identified as Indigenous. Indigenous mothers were younger than non-Indigenous mothers with an average age in 2012 of 25.2 years compared with 30.3. The average age of first time Indigenous mothers was 21.5 compared to 28.6 for non-Indigenous mothers.

Smoking during pregnancy was reported by 12.5% of all mothers in 2012 and in almost 35% of teenage mothers.

Overall, 6% of liveborn babies were of low birthweight (less than 2,500 grams) and this doubled (12%) among mothers who smoked during pregnancy.

The overall proportion of women giving birth by caesarean section in 2012 was 32.4% and similar to the proportion (32.3%) in 2011.

Caesarean section rates increased over the decade from 28.5% in 2003 to 32.4% in 2012.

'In 2012, caesarean sections rates ranged from 17.1% for teenage mothers to 49.9% for mothers aged 40 and over,' Dr Chambers said.

The perinatal death rate was 9.6 per 1,000 births, with 7.2 stillbirths per 1,000 births and 2.4 neonatal deaths (death of a liveborn infant within 28 days of birth) per 1,000 live births.

For the first time, an overview of perinatal data and information about the demographics of mothers are available in a dynamic and interactive portal on the AIHW website http://www.aihw.gov.au/perinatal-data/, where further releases are planned.

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, 16 December 2014

Further information: Dr Georgina Chambers, NPESU, mob. 0408 664 490

Full publication: Australia's mothers and babies 2012