Australia's most comprehensive national report on its Indigenous mothers and their babies will be released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's National Perinatal Statistics Unit.
Indigenous Mothers and their Babies, Australia, 1991-1993 gives detailed information on Indigenous women and their babies, a high risk health group which accounts for 1 in 35 births in Australia each year.
Associate Professor Dr Paul Lancaster, Director of the National Perinatal Statistics Unit and an author of the report, drew particular attention to the high caesarean rate among Indigenous mothers.
'The high caesarean rate is an important part of the birthing care of Indigenous mothers that needs much closer attention', Dr Lancaster said. 'In public hospitals, where 98% of Indigenous mothers give birth, 1 in 7 women aged 15-19 years had a caesarean, as did 1 in 5 aged 30-34 and 1 in 4 aged 35-39 years. These rates are higher in all age groups than for other women in Australia.'
The study also shows that in 1991-1993, Indigenous women began bearing children at younger ages than other women, had higher birth rates in their teenage years and early twenties, and had more children.
Another significant problem is the low average birthweight of infants born to Indigenous mothers-216g less than that of other infants.
'Indigenous babies suffer death rates twice that of other babies in Australia and low birthweight is a major factor in that figure', said Dr Lancaster.
Dr Lancaster also noted that although several innovative programs had been developed by Indigenous communities in recent years, better information is still needed 'not only about health services for Indigenous women and their babies, but also all babies born to Indigenous fathers'.
'This report makes specific recommendations on linking data systems to further improve data quality, and on communicating information more effectively to Indigenous communities', Dr Lancaster said.
More information is needed in areas such as: whether antenatal and postnatal services in diverse cultural settings are acceptable to Indigenous people; who provides antenatal care, and whether suitably trained Aboriginal health workers are available; at what stage of pregnancy antenatal care begins; and whether there are safe alternatives to existing policies for transporting low-risk pregnant women to distant hospitals for childbirth.