Motherhood comes early for Indigenous women

Indigenous women start their families at younger ages than other women, have higher birth rates in their teenage years and early twenties, and have more children, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Indigenous mothers and their babies, Australia 1994–1996 shows Indigenous mothers had an average of 2.2 children, compared with 1.8 among non-Indigenous women. The average age of Indigenous mothers was 24 years compared with 28.6 years for non-Indigenous mothers, and the proportion of teenage mothers (23.1%) was almost five times higher than for other women (4.8%).

Director of the AIHW National Perinatal Statistics Unit at the University of New South Wales, Dr Paul Lancaster, said that Indigenous women and their babies remained a high risk health group.

'A significant problem is the low average birthweight of infants born to Indigenous mothers — 216g less than that of other infants,' Dr Lancaster said.

'Indigenous babies suffer death rates twice that of other babies in Australia and low birthweight is a major factor in that figure.'

The report also shows high caesarean rates among Indigenous women in public hospitals, where about 97% of Indigenous mothers give birth. Caesareans were performed on 1 in 8 Indigenous women aged 15 to 19 years, 1 in 5 aged 30–34, and 1 in 4 aged 35–39 years.

'These rates are higher in all age groups than for other women giving birth in public hospitals in Australia,' Dr Lancaster said.

Other findings in Indigenous Mothers and their Babies, Australia 1994–1996 include:

  • During 1994–1996, birth rates of teenage Indigenous women and those in their early 20s declined substantially.
  • Babies born to Indigenous mothers during this period accounted for 1 in 34 births in Australia.
  • There is an increasing trend towards early discharge of Indigenous mothers and their babies from hospital; the proportion of Indigenous babies having hospital stays of less than 3 days (29.9%) is nearly twice that of all other babies (17.6%).


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