More babies, older mums, caesareans

There were 15,214 more babies born in Australia in 2005 than there were in 2004, and the upward trends in both maternal age and caesarean sections are continuing, says a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

'In 2005, 267,793 women gave birth to 272,419 babies, which is almost 6% higher than the previous year,' said Dr Elizabeth Sullivan of the AIHW's National Perinatal Statistics Unit, based at the University of New South Wales.

The report, Australia's mothers and babies 2005, says women who gave birth in Australia in 2005 had an average age of 29.8 years compared with the average of 28.6 years in 1996.

'For first-time mothers, the mean age was 28 years in 2005 - about a year and a half older than first time mums in 1996,' Dr Sullivan said.

The rise in caesarean sections also continued in 2005, with 30.3% of women giving birth by caesarean section, compared with 19.5% in 1996.

Women giving birth in private hospitals reported higher rates of caesarean sections.'

Of women who had previously had a caesarean section, the majority (83.2%) had another caesarean section.

'Hospital stays, as you would expect, were longer for women who had caesarean sections - about five days, compared with three days for all women,' Dr Sullivan said.

The report also presents, for the first time, data that ties maternal socioeconomic status to outcomes such as birthweight.

'From the figures we have, "socioeconomic advantage" is definitely an advantage in terms of outcomes as well,' Dr Sullivan said.

'Poorer outcomes such as preterm birth and low birthweight were more common in the less advantaged groups,' she said.

The likelihood of interventions such as induction of labour, instrumental delivery or caesarean section increased with socioeconomic advantage, and mothers in the most advantaged groups were less likely to smoke during pregnancy.

Other findings in the report include:

  • 3.7% of women who gave birth were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin
  • 17.4% of mothers reported smoking during pregnancy
  • 8.1% of all babies born in 2005 were preterm (less than 37 weeks gestation)
  • 6.4% of all liveborn babies were of low birthweight (less than 2,500 grams)

23 November 2007

Further information: Dr Elizabeth Sullivan, AIHW tel. 02 9382 1014 or mob. 04 3999 4820.

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