New facts on homebirths, caesarean sections and birth anomalies in new reports

New data on the characteristics of mothers and their babies in Australia, including homebirths, caesarean sections and birth anomalies, is presented in two new reports released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Australia's Mothers and Babies 2002 features a special chapter on homebirths and birth centre births. While most births in Australia occur in hospitals, the report shows that there were 637 reported homebirths in 2002, accounting for 0.3% of all confinements. Around 2.1% of confinements (5,379 deliveries) occurred in birth centres.

Mothers giving birth at home were older, with 30% aged 35 years or older, compared with 18% of mothers giving birth in birth centres.

Head of the AIHW's National Perinatal Statistics Unit (NPSU), Dr Elizabeth Sullivan, said that this year's report presented, for the first time, data on previous caesarean sections and anaesthetic administered for operative deliveries.

'Of mothers giving birth in 2002, 13% had previously had a caesarean section. The majority, 79%, of mothers with a history of caesarean section, had another caesarean section in 2002.

'The steady upward trend in caesarean rates of the last 10 years continued with the proportion of women having caesarean sections increasing to 27% in 2002 compared to the 19% recorded for 1993,' Dr Sullivan said.

Of mothers having a caesarean section in 2002, one-third had an epidural or caudal anaesthetic, 55% had a spinal anaesthetic, and 13% had a general anaesthetic administered.

In 2002, 2.3% of babies were born following the use of assisted reproductive technology (ART). Mothers of babies born following ART were older than average at 33.7 years compared with the average age for all mothers of 29.4 years.

Also released today, the bulletin Australia's Babies: Their Health and Wellbeing provides some new data on birth anomalies. In 2001, the estimated birth prevalence of Down syndrome was 1.2 per 1,000 births, for neural tube defects it was 0.5 per 1,000 births, and for abdominal wall defects it was 0.5 per 1,000 births.

Other findings from the Australia's Mothers and Babies 2002 report include:

  • 3.6% of all mothers in 2002 were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, with an average age of 24.8 years.
  • 41% of all mothers were having their first baby, and 34% were having their second.
  • The average age of mothers having their first baby in 2002 was 27.6 years.
  • 6.4% of liveborn babies were of low birthweight (less than 2,500 grams).
  • 7.9% of all births were recorded as preterm (less than 37 weeks gestation).

16 December 2004


Further information: Dr Elizabeth Sullivan, NPSU, tel. 02 9382 1064 or 02 9382 1014.
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032.