Hospital stays for childbirth continue to shorten

Increasing numbers of mothers in Australia are staying in hospital for less time after childbirth than in previous years, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Australia's mothers and babies 1997 shows the proportion of mothers staying less than 2 days was almost 10%, up from 3% six years earlier, while those staying between two and four days also increased, from 35% to 52%.

Conversely, mothers staying five or more days dropped from 62% to 38% over the same period.

Head of the AIHW National Perinatal Statistics Unit at the University of New South Wales, Dr Paul Lancaster, said factors associated with shorter postnatal stays were younger maternal age, previous births, Indigenous status, spontaneous (not induced) delivery, maternity units of medium size, and lack of private health insurance.

'When you look at the various factors, mothers without private health insurance were much more likely to have shorter stays than those with private health insurance', Dr Lancaster said.

'Seventy-six per cent of mothers with public status stayed for less than five days while only 33% of mothers with private status did.'

'The differences in stay between public and private were consistent across all ages, number of previous births, Indigenous status, type of delivery and size of hospital.'

Australia's mothers and babies 1997 presents data collected from the 256,198 births notified to State and Territory perinatal data collections in that year. Other findings include:

  • more than 1 in 5 births (20.3%) were by caesarean section; South Australia had the highest caesarean rate (23.5%) and New South Wales the lowest (18.2%)
  • mothers aged 35 to 39 years who were privately insured and having their first baby had a caesarean rate of 41%
  • about 1 in 12 mothers had their first baby at age 35 years or older; the average age for first-time mothers in 1997 was 26.8 years-continuing the upward trend in recent years
  • more than 5% (13,137) of new mothers were teenagers; of these 4,101 were 17 years or younger
  • the average age of all mothers in 1997 was 28.7 years; among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers it was 24.3 years, and for this group there was a high proportion of teenage mothers (22.9%).

15 December 1999

Further information: Dr Paul Lancaster, AIHW NPSU, tel. 02 9382 1047/1014.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.

Availability: Check the AIHW Publications Catalogue for availability.