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. Antenatal care is associated with positive maternal and child health outcomes – the likelihood of receiving effective health interventions is increased through attending antenatal care. It does not include visits where the sole purpose is to confirm the pregnancy (AIHW 2022).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers are more likely to engage with maternity care when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are involved in the design and delivery of services and when care is woman-centred, culturally safe and involves continuity of care (DoHAC 2020; Kildea et al. 2021; Parker et al. 2014).
Some examples of programs which are designed to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers, and have reported positive outcomes are:
- Birthing in our Community (BiOC) Program: based in urban Queensland, this program reported improvements include increased antenatal care attendance, a reduction in preterm birth, and an increase in exclusive breastfeeding at discharge from hospital (Kildea et al. 2021).
- Aboriginal Maternal and Infant Health Service: based in New South wales, this service reported outcomes include increased likelihood of attending antenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy and attending 7 or more antenatal care visits and a reduced likelihood of babies being born preterm or of low birthweight (HCA 2019).
- Aboriginal Family Birthing Program: based in South Australia, participants in this program reported positive experiences of antenatal care, (Middleton et al. 2017) and there were reported improvements in attending antenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy and attending 5 or more antenatal care visits (Brown et al. 2016).
Duration of pregnancy at the first antenatal care visit
The first antenatal visit is important as it involves a comprehensive physical, emotional and social assessment, providing advice on a range of topics, and identifying if additional care is required (DoHAC 2020).
The Australian Pregnancy Care Guidelines (DoHAC 2020) recommend that a woman has her first antenatal care visit within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Note that in some instances the first antenatal visit may be the first hospital antenatal clinic visit and that in these cases, earlier antenatal care provided in the Primary Care setting would not be reported.
In 2020, 58% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females who gave birth had their first antenatal care visit in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, and 71% had their first antenatal care visit in the first trimester (before 14 weeks’ gestation) of pregnancy (compared with 67% and 80%, respectively, for non-Indigenous females).
Over time, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers who had their first antenatal care visit in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy has increased (from 35% in 2012 to 58% in 2020), as has the proportion who had their first antenatal care visit in the first trimester of pregnancy (from 50% in 2012 to 71% in 2020).
The data visualisation below shows the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous females who gave birth who had their first antenatal care visit in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy or the first trimester of pregnancy, from 2012.
Figure 1: Proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous females who gave birth by duration pregnancy at their first antenatal care visit from 2012 to 2020