Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females have higher fertility rates than other Australian females and are more likely to give birth at younger ages. Indigenous maternal mortality rates and the proportion of low birthweight babies born to Indigenous females are higher than for non-Indigenous females. The perinatal death rate for Indigenous babies is also higher than for non-Indigenous babies, but this rate has declined since the early 1990s. Mortality rates for Indigenous infants and children have also fallen in some jurisdictions over a similar period of time.
This chapter includes some background information on the circumstances of Indigenous families and communities to provide the broader context in which the health and welfare of Indigenous mothers and children is determined. The relatively poor socioeconomic status and social disadvantage experienced by many Indigenous families contributes to the generally poorer health and wellbeing of Indigenous children.
The data on Indigenous mothers and babies focus on the periods of pregnancy, childbirth and infancy. As well as data on fertility, the chapter includes information on the risk factors during pregnancy, and perinatal and child health outcomes. These outcomes include maternal mortality, gestational age, low birthweight and perinatal mortality. Data are also included on some of the factors that impact on healthy child development - breastfeeding, diet and nutrition, immunisation, and exposure to passive smoking and risky/high risk drinker(s) in the household. The health status of Indigenous children is then examined through data on the prevalence of long-term health conditions, burden of disease, hospitalisations and mortality.
The focus of the chapter is Indigenous mothers and Indigenous children aged 0-14 years, except where information for these ages was not available. For the first time, data on trends over time are provided for some of the measures.