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

This page uses data from the National Perinatal Data Collection (AIHW 2020a, 2020b) to explore aspects of pregnancy and childbirth as well as key outcomes for babies at birth.

Profile of mothers and babies

About 299,000 women gave birth to around 303,000 babies in 2018. While the number of babies born and women giving birth has been increasing, the rate of women giving birth has fallen from 65 per 1,000 women of reproductive age (15–44) in 2008 to 58 per 1,000 women in 2018.

In 2018:

  • 73% of mothers lived in Major cities—lower than the proportion of women of reproduction age in the population (76%)
  • 35% of mothers were born overseas—higher than the proportion of women of reproduction age in the population (34%)
  • 20% of mothers were from the lowest socioeconomic areas—higher than the proportion of women of reproduction age in the population (17%)
  • 4.6% of mothers were of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin—slightly higher than the proportion of Indigenous women of reproduction age in the population (3.6%)
  • 51% of babies born were male, with a ratio of 106 live born boys to 100 live born girls
  • 5.7% of babies born were Indigenous babies.

Detailed information on mothers and babies from population groups, such as Indigenous mothers and babies or those from remote areas, is available from Australia’s mothers and babies 2018—in brief and Australia’s mothers and babies data visualisations.

Mothers

Maternal age

Maternal age is an important risk factor for both obstetric and perinatal outcomes. Adverse outcomes are more common in younger and older mothers. Women in Australia are continuing to give birth later in life:

  • The average age of women who gave birth was 30.7 in 2018 compared with 29.9 in 2008.
  • The proportion of women giving birth aged 35 and over remained relatively stable from 23% in 2008 to 24% in 2018, while the proportion aged under 25 decreased from 19% to 13% (Figure 1).
     

The chart shows the proportion of mothers by maternal age categories between the years of 2010 and 2018. The rate of mothers aged less than 20 decreased from 3.8% in 2010 to 2.0% in 2018, the rate of mothers aged 20–24 decreased from 14.2% in 2010 to 11.3% in 2018, the rate of mothers aged 25–29 decreased slightly from 27.6% in 2010 to 26.5% 2018, the rate of mothers aged 30–34 increased from 31.4% in 2010 to 36.0% in 2018, the rate of mothers aged 35–39 increased slightly from 18.9% in 2010 to 19.8% in 2018 and the rate of mothers aged 40 and over increased slightly from 4.1% in 2010 to 4.4% in 2018.   

Smoking status

Smoking during pregnancy is the most common preventable risk factor for pregnancy complications and is associated with poorer perinatal outcomes, including low birthweight, being small for gestational age, pre-term birth and perinatal death. Women who stop smoking during pregnancy can reduce the risk of adverse outcomes for themselves and their babies. Support to stop smoking is widely available through antenatal clinics.

One in 10 (9.6%) mothers who gave birth in 2018 smoked at some time during their pregnancy, a decrease from 15% in 2009 (Figure 1). Of mothers who were smoking at the start of their pregnancy, 1 in 5 (20%) quit smoking during pregnancy.

Antenatal care

Antenatal care is a planned visit between a pregnant woman and a midwife or doctor to assess and improve the wellbeing of the mother and baby throughout pregnancy. 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 (AHMAC 2011; WHO RHR 2015).

Australian Pregnancy Care Guidelines

The Australian Pregnancy Care 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) (Department of Health 2018).

Looking at the number of antenatal visits by mothers who gave birth at 32 weeks or more gestation in 2018:

  • almost all mothers (99.8%) used antenatal care during pregnancy
  • 61% of mothers received antenatal care within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy
  • 63% of first-time mothers had at least 10 antenatal visits during pregnancy and 85% of mothers who had given birth previously had at least 7 visits— the rates have remained steady since 2013 (excludes data from Victoria) (Figure 1).

Method of birth

In 2018, 65% of mothers (193,000) had a vaginal birth and 35% (105,000) had a caesarean section (Figure 2).

Around half of all births were non-instrumental vaginal births (52% of all births). When instrumental births were required, vacuum extraction was more common than forceps (8% and 5% of all births, respectively) (Figure 2).

Since 2008, the rate of non-instrumental vaginal births decreased (from 58% in 2008 to 52% in 2018) whereas the caesarean section rate increased (from 31% in 2008 to 35% in 2018) (Figure 2). The rate of vaginal birth with instruments was relatively stable over this time, between 11% and 13%. These trends remain when changes in maternal age over time are taken into account.
 

The chart shows the proportion of mothers in 2018 by maternal age categories.  The rate of mothers who were aged less than 20 was 2.0%, the rate of mothers aged 20–24 was 11.3%, the rate of mothers aged 25–29 was 26.5%, the rate of mothers aged
30–34 was 36.0%, the rate of mothers aged 35–39 was 19.8%, and the rate of mothers aged 40 and over was 4.4%.

Babies

Gestational age

Gestational age is the duration of pregnancy in completed weeks. Gestational age is reported in 3 categories: pre-term (less than 37 weeks gestation), term (37 to 41 weeks) and post-term (42 weeks and over). The gestational age of a baby has important implications for their health, with poorer outcomes generally reported for those born early. Pre-term birth is associated with a higher risk of adverse neonatal outcomes.

In 2018:

  • the median gestational age for all babies was 39 weeks
  • 91% of all babies born were born at term (Figure 3).
     

The chart shows showing the proportion of live born babies in 2018 by Apgar score at 5 minutes after birth. The number of babies whose Apgar score was between 0 and 3 was 0.3%, the number of babies whose Apgar score was between 4 and 6 was 1.5% and the number of babies whose Apgar score was between 7–10 was 97.9%. 

Birthweight

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. A baby may be small due to being born early (pre-term) or be small for gestational age, for example, due to fetal growth restriction within the uterus.

In 2018, 6.7% of babies born in Australia were low birthweight (Figure 3), and there has been little change since 2008. Birthweight and gestational age are closely related—low birthweight babies made up 57% of babies who were pre-term compared with only 2% of babies born at term.

Apgar score at 5 minutes

Apgar scores are clinical indicators that determine a baby’s condition shortly after birth. These scores are measured on a 10-point scale for several characteristics. An Apgar score of 7 or more at 5 minutes after birth indicates the baby is adapting well post-birth.

The vast majority (98%) of live born babies in 2018 had an Apgar score of 7 or more at 5 minutes after birth (Figure 3). This rate has remained steady since 2008.

Resuscitation

Resuscitation is undertaken to establish independent breathing and heartbeat or to treat depressed respiratory effort and to correct metabolic disturbances. Resuscitation methods range from less intrusive methods like suction or oxygen therapy to more intrusive methods, such as external cardiac massage and ventilation. If more than 1 type of resuscitation is performed, the most intrusive type is recorded.

Almost 1 in 5 (19%) live born babies required active resuscitation immediately after birth in 2018. Where resuscitation was required, intermittent positive pressure ventilation (IPPV) was the most common methods used (33% of babies requiring resuscitation), followed by suction or oxygen therapy (31%) (Figure 3). Data are for live born babies only, and exclude Western Australia.

Babies who required resuscitation were also more likely to have an Apgar score between 4 and 6 at 5 minutes—indicating that they have not adapted well post-birth—and to be admitted to a special care nursery or neonatal intensive care unit.

Stillbirth and neonatal deaths

A stillbirth is the death of a baby before birth, at a gestational age of 20 weeks or more, or a birthweight of 400 grams or more. A neonatal death is the death of a live born baby within 28 days of birth. Perinatal deaths include both stillbirth and neonatal deaths.

In 2018, there were 9.2 perinatal deaths for every 1,000 births, a total of 2,911 perinatal deaths. This included:

  • 2,118 stillbirths, a rate of 7.0 deaths per 1,000 births
  • 671 neonatal deaths, a rate of 2.2 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Between 2008 and 2018 the stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates have remained largely unchanged at between 7 and 8 in 1,000 births and between 2 and 3 in 1,000 live births, respectively.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on the health of mothers and babies, see:

Visit Mothers and babies for more on this topic.

References

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2020a. Australia's mothers and babies data visualisations. Cat. no. PER 101. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2020b. Australia’s mothers and babies 2018—in brief. Perinatal statistics series no. 35. Cat. no. PER 100. Canberra: AIHW.

AHMAC (Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council) 2011. National Maternity Services Plan. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

Department of Health 2018. Clinical Practice Guidelines: Pregnancy care. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health. Viewed 1 September 2019.

WHO RHR (World Health Organization Department of Reproductive Health and Research) 2015. WHO statement on caesarean section rates. WHO/RHR/15.02. Geneva: WHO. Viewed 1 September 2019.