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A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that the rate of women aged between 15-44 years giving birth is higher than a decade ago.

The rate was 63 per 1,000 in 2013, compared with 59 per 1,000 women in 2003. But during this time, the birth rate has slowed after peaking in 2007 at 66 per 1,000.

According to the report, Australia's mothers and babies 2013-in brief, almost 305,000 women gave birth to over 309,000 babies in 2013, with 97% of mothers delivering in hospitals.

'The proportion of mothers aged 35 years and older who gave birth in 2013 was 22%, compared with 19% in 2003. Conversely, the proportion of mothers aged less than 24 years decreased from 19% to 17%,' said AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman.

The rate of women giving birth by caesarean section has continued to rise, from 28% in 2003 to 33% in 2013, with rates being highest among older mothers. Mothers older than 40 years were around 3 times as likely to deliver by caesarean section as teenage mothers (51% and 18%).

The report also examines the use of antenatal care, and shows that 62% of women who gave birth in 2013 accessed antenatal care during the first trimester of their pregnancy and 87% had 7 or more visits.

'Early and regular antenatal care is associated with better maternal health outcomes during pregnancy, fewer interventions in late pregnancy and positive health outcomes for the baby.'

The report also shows that fewer women are smoking during pregnancy-12% in 2013, down from 15% in 2009.

'Tobacco smoking during pregnancy is the most common preventable risk factor for pregnancy complications, and is associated with poorer perinatal outcomes including low birthweight, pre-term birth and perinatal death,' Dr Al-Yaman said.

Smoking was more common among teenage mothers, mothers living in Very remote areas, mothers living in the lowest SES areas, and Indigenous mothers.

'Some positive changes were seen in smoking behaviour during the antenatal period, with around one-fifth (22%) of women who smoked quitting in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.'

Overall, around 6% of live born babies were of low birthweight (less than 2,500 grams) in 2013. The rate of low birthweight was twice as high among babies of women who smoked during pregnancy (12%), and babies born to Indigenous mothers (12%).

'Despite higher rates of smoking during pregnancy and low birthweight babies, most Indigenous mothers and their babies are doing well and there have been some recent improvements in areas such as in antenatal visits, and smoking during pregnancy.'

Today's report is accompanied by the release of a new online module on labour and birth, allowing users to explore perinatal data and information.

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, 14 December

Further information: Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1146, mob. 0407 068 033

Full publication: Australia's mothers and babies 2013-in brief  

Updated data portal: Perinatal data portal