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More than 300,000 babies are born in Australia each year and this number continues to increase. The health of a baby at birth is a key determinant of subsequent health and wellbeing. For mothers, maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy and attending routine antenatal care contributes to better outcomes for both her and her baby.

Tobacco smoking during pregnancy is the most common modifiable risk factor for pregnancy complications, and is associated with poorer perinatal outcomes, including a baby being of low birthweight or small for gestational age, a pre-term birth or perinatal death. While rates of smoking during pregnancy have been declining, the rates for Indigenous mothers remain more than 3 times as high as for non-Indigenous mothers.

Accessing routine antenatal care, beginning in the first trimester (before 14 weeks gestational age), is known to contribute to better maternal health in pregnancy, fewer interventions in late pregnancy, and positive child health outcomes [1,2]. The Australian Antenatal Guidelines recommend that the first antenatal visit occur within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and that first-time mothers with an uncomplicated pregnancy have 10 antenatal visits (7 visits for subsequent uncomplicated pregnancies [1]). Less than 50% of women attend their first antenatal visit within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, and while almost 90% of women attended 7 or more visits while pregnant, this drops to around 60% for 10 or more visits.

Birthweight is a key indicator of infant health and a principal determinant of a baby’s chance of survival and good health. A birthweight below 2,500 grams is considered low and is a known risk factor for neurological and physical disabilities. Around 6% of babies born in Australia are low birthweight, and there has been little change in recent years. Birthweight and gestational age are closely related—6 in 10 babies who are pre-term are of low birthweight compared with only 2% of babies born at term.

Information and statistics about the health of mothers and their babies are important for monitoring and evaluating the provision and outcomes of maternity services and care in Australia. Data on almost every birth in Australia are collected by health professionals and included in the AIHW National Perinatal Data Collection. The AIHW produces annual Australia’s mothers and babies reports, including key statistics and trends in pregnancy and childbirth of mothers, and the characteristics and outcomes of their babies. This publication is accompanied by the perinatal dynamic data display.

The AIHW is working to develop nationally consistent and comprehensive maternal and perinatal mortality collections to enable better monitoring and targeting by health services, and to improve the safety and quality of maternity care. National Core Maternity Indicators have also been developed to monitor the quality of maternity services across Australia, and have been endorsed by the heads of Australian Government and state and territory health departments.

Work is also under way to improve information on alcohol use during pregnancy. The AIHW commissioned the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute to explore the views of maternity clinicians and pregnant women about collecting information on alcohol use in pregnancy, and the feasibility of introducing national data collection.

References

  1. AHMAC (Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council) 2012. Clinical Practice Guidelines: antenatal care—module 1. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing.
  2. WHO (World Health Organization) 2015. State of inequality: reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health. Geneva: WHO. Viewed 3 November 2015.