Many Indigenous mothers and children live in environments of relative socioeconomic disadvantage and this has adverse impacts on their health and wellbeing. Overall, Indigenous mothers and babies have poorer outcomes in relation to pregnancy and childbirth compared with other Australian mothers and babies. The maternal mortality rate for Indigenous females was five times the corresponding rate for non-Indigenous females, the proportion of low birthweight babies born to Indigenous mothers was double the rate for non-Indigenous mothers, and the perinatal death rate for Indigenous babies was 1.5 times the rate for other babies. The perinatal death rate for Indigenous babies has, however, decreased significantly in Western Australia since the early 1990s, falling from 20 per 1,000 births in 1991-1993 to 13 per 1,000 births in 2003-2005.
There were some positive findings in relation to the factors affecting childhood development. The proportion of Indigenous children aged less than 12 months who were breastfeeding in 2004-05 was particularly high in remote areas (85% of those aged less than six months and 82% of those aged six to 12 months). A much higher proportion of Indigenous children (28%), however, lived in households with regular smokers who smoked indoors compared with non-Indigenous children (9%).
The prevalence of at least one long-term health condition was similar among Indigenous and non-Indigenous children (44% compared with 41%). Indigenous children had, however, higher rates of asthma, partial deafness and otitis media. Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants, conditions originating in the perinatal period were the leading cause of both hospitalisation and death. Diseases of the respiratory system were the leading cause of hospitalisations for Indigenous children aged 1-14 years, while external causes, such as injury and poisoning, were the leading causes of death.
Indigenous mortality rates for infants have fallen in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, and for children, have fallen in the Northern Territory. There has been a narrowing of the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous infant mortality rates in South Australia and the Northern Territory.