Indigenous mothers and babies

Although a range of data by Indigenous status has been presented in other sections, this section provides more in-depth information on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander (respectfully hereafter Indigenous) mothers, babies born to Indigenous mothers and Indigenous babies. All data are based on crude rates, as opposed to the age-standardised rates presented in other sections.

The topics explored for Indigenous mothers are state and territory of birth, maternal age, onset of labour and method of birth, timing and number of antenatal visits, smoking status, remoteness of usual residence and socio-economic status. The topics for Indigenous babies and babies of Indigenous mothers are gestational age, birthweight, birthweight adjusted for gestational age, Apgar score at 5 minutes, active resuscitation method, hospital length of stay and admission to special care nurseries (SCN) or neonatal intensive care units (NICU).

Indigenous mothers

In 2019, Indigenous mothers accounted for 4.8% (14,241) of women who gave birth.

The figure shows a line graph of trends in proportion of Indigenous mothers by a range of topics including state and territory of birth, remoteness area and maternal age between 2009 and 2019. In 2019, 4.8% of women who gave birth were Indigenous.

There have been improvements in outcomes for Indigenous mothers in recent years, with:

  • a notable increase in the proportion of Indigenous mothers attending an antenatal visit in the first trimester (from 49% in 2012 to 67% in 2019)
  • an increase in the proportion of Indigenous mothers attending 5 or more antenatal visits (from 77% in 2012 to 88% in 2019)
  • a decrease in the proportion of Indigenous mothers who reported smoking in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy (from 48% in 2011 to 42% in 2019) and after 20 weeks of pregnancy (from 42% in 2011 to 37% in 2019).

The proportion of Indigenous mothers who report smoking at any time during pregnancy has fallen (from 50% in 2009 to 43% in 2019), and of those who smoked, the rate of smoking cessation during pregnancy was around 1 in 10. This is based on Indigenous mothers who reported smoking in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and not smoking after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The proportion of Indigenous teenage (aged under 20) mothers who gave birth has been gradually decreasing from 20% in 2009 to 11% in 2019.

Around 3 in 5 (62%) Indigenous mothers had a non-instrumental vaginal birth, and fewer than 1 in 3 (30%) gave birth by caesarean section. The majority of Indigenous mothers had 5 or more antenatal visits (almost 9 in 10 or 88%).

Babies of Indigenous mothers

In 2019, babies born to Indigenous mothers accounted for 4.8% (14,467) of all births.

The figure shows a line graph of trends in the proportion of babies of Indigenous mothers by a range of topics including active resuscitation method, birthweight and gestational age between 2009 and 2019. In 2019, 4.8% of babies were born to Indigenous mothers.

The majority of babies of Indigenous mothers were born at term (born from 37 to 41 weeks) and with a normal birthweight (both 87%). A high proportion of babies of Indigenous mothers had a normal birthweight adjusted for gestational age (77%).

Increasing the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies with a healthy birthweight to 91% by 2031, is one of the targets in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

Babies of Indigenous mothers most commonly had a hospital stay of 2–3 days (45%), with 25% having a stay of 1 day and 12% having a stay of 6 days or more.

Almost all babies (97%) had an Apgar score of 7–10 at 5 minutes after birth, indicating that they have adapted well post-birth.

Indigenous babies

In 2019, Indigenous babies accounted for 6.0% (18,086) of all births.

The figure shows a line graph of trends in the proportion of Indigenous babies by a range of topics including active resuscitation method, birthweight and gestational age between 2013 and 2019. In 2019, 6.0% of babies were Indigenous.

Whilst the outcomes for Indigenous babies and babies of Indigenous mothers are very similar there were some differences.

Remoteness area

Remoteness area can have an effect on several key statistics for Indigenous mothers and babies. For example, Indigenous mothers who live in Very remote areas are more likely to smoke. These and other statistics can be explored in the graph below.

The figure shows proportions of Indigenous mothers and babies of Indigenous mothers by remoteness area for the topics of antenatal care, smoking status and low birthweight for 2019.

It is important to note that despite improvements, Indigenous mothers and babies continue to experience poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous mothers and babies in some areas, and that there are complex interactions between maternal and perinatal health outcomes and the determinants of health, including both social determinants and health risk factors.

For more information on Indigenous babies and babies born to Indigenous mothers see National Perinatal Data Collection annual update data tables 3.4 and 3.11.