Older mothers, shorter hospital stays

The average age of first-time mothers in Australia continues to rise, according to Australia's mothers and babies 1994, a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

In 1994 the average age for first births was an all-time high of 26.3 years, up six months in only three years. The average age of all mothers was 28.3 years.

Director of the Institute's National Perinatal Statistics Unit, Dr Paul Lancaster, said that, nevertheless, over 70% of Australian women have their first baby before 30.

'Those who are better off, and have private health insurance, are more likely to defer having their first child, but even in this group only 1 in 10 waits past the age of 35.'

The trend to shorter stays in hospital for childbirth continued, with 3 in 10 mothers staying less than four days after giving birth. Shorter postnatal stays were more likely for mothers who had other children, younger mothers compared with older mothers, Indigenous mothers, and those without private health insurance.

Dr Lancaster raised concerns that not enough information was available on the effects of early discharge on mothers and babies, and on whether arrangements for care in the community, particularly for new mothers, were generally satisfactory.

Other findings of the report include:

  • Twin pregnancies increased to a peak of 3,496, with the twinning rate of 13.6 per 1,000 confinements now 50% higher than 20 years ago.
  • Triplet pregnancies continued to decline, from a high of 105 in 1992 to 85 in 1994.
  • Births by caesarean section totalled nearly 50,000, or 19.4% of all births, which is the highest level yet recorded in Australia.
  • One in 4 mothers with private health insurance gave birth by caesarean section, compared with 1 in 6 mothers who were not insured. This difference was partly because of the higher average age of mothers in private accommodation (caesarean rates were higher for first births and for older mothers).
  • The number of births to young mothers aged less than 17 years increased to 1,853, up 10% on the previous year.

19 June 1997

Further information: Dr Paul Lancaster, NPSU, ph. 02 9351 4379, 02 9427 0112 (ah) or 02 9351 5204 (fax).

For media copies of the report (122pp.): AIHW National Perinatal Statistics Unit, ph. 02 9351 4378 or 02 9351 5204 (fax).

Publication: Australia's mothers and babies 1994.