2.21 Health behaviours during pregnancy

This measure reports on the use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit substances during pregnancy, and other health issues for pregnant Indigenous women.

Why is it important?

This measure reports on the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit substances and other health‑related behaviours during pregnancy. Many lifestyle factors contribute to, and can have adverse effects on, the health and wellbeing of a woman and her baby during pregnancy and birth, as well as for children later in life (AHMAC 2017). Smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol and using illicit drugs while pregnant increases the risk of complications and poor perinatal outcomes (England et al. 2004; Hodyl et al. 2014; Laws et al. 2005; Pringle et al. 2015; Wills & Coory 2008). Nutrition before and during pregnancy is critical to fetal development (McDermott et al. 2009; Wen et al. 2010). Drinking alcohol while pregnant has been shown to result in potentially lifelong physical, mental, behavioural and learning issues, collectively referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (France et al. 2010; Mutch et al. 2015; Srikartika & O’Leary 2015).

Related measures

Data sources

  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey
  • National Key Performance Indicators for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care
  • National Perinatal Data Collection


  • AHMAC 2017. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2017 report. Canberra: AHMAC.
  • England LJ, Levine RJ, Qian C, Soule LM, Schisterman EF & Kai FY 2004. Glucose tolerance and risk of gestational diabetes mellitus in nulliparous women who smoke during pregnancy. American Journal of Epidemiology 160:1205–13.
  • France K, Henley N, Payne J, D’Antoine H, Bartu A & O’Leary C 2010. Health professionals addressing alcohol use with pregnant women in Western Australia: barriers and strategies for communication. Substance Use and Misuse 45:1474–90.
  • Hodyl NA, Grzeskowiak L, Stark MJ, Scheil W & Clifton VL 2014. The impact of Aboriginal status, cigarette smoking and smoking cessation on perinatal outcomes in South Australia. The Medical Journal of Australia 201:274–8.
  • Laws PJ & Sullivan EA 2005. Australia’s mothers and babies 2003. Perinatal statistics series no. 16. Cat. no. PER 29. Canberra: AIHW.
  • McDermott R, Campbell S, Li M & McCulloch B 2009. The health and nutrition of young Indigenous women in north Queensland—intergenerational implications of poor food quality, obesity, diabetes, tobacco smoking and alcohol use. Public Health Nutrition 12:2143–9.
  • Mutch RC, Watkins R & Bower C 2015. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: notifications to the Western Australian Register of Developmental Anomalies. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 51:433–6.
  • Pringle KG, Rae K, Weatherall L, Hall S, Burns C, Smith R et al. 2015. Effects of maternal inflammation and exposure to cigarette smoke on birth weight and delivery of preterm babies in a cohort of Indigenous Australian women. Frontiers in immunology 6:89.
  • Srikartika VM & O’Leary CM 2015. Pregnancy outcomes of mothers with an alcohol‑related diagnosis: a population‑based cohort study for the period 1983–2007. BJOG 122:795–804.
  • Wen LM, Flood VM, Simpson JM, Rissel C & Baur LA 2010. Dietary behaviours during pregnancy: findings from first‑time mothers in southwest Sydney, Australia. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity 7:1–7.
  • Wills RA & Coory MD 2008. Effect of smoking among Indigenous and non‑Indigenous mothers on preterm birth and full‑term low birthweight. The Medical Journal of Australia 189:490–4.