The overwhelming majority of pregnancies in Australia do not result in severe illness or death. However, pregnancy, childbirth and infancy remain a time of vulnerability especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and children.
Many factors which affect the health of infants and children have their origin in the womb and are associated with the health-related behaviours of the mother. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy can result in foetal death, premature birth and/or low birthweight. Premature and low birthweight infants are more at risk of developing conditions such as coronary heart disease and stroke when older. Poor nutrition during pregnancy and in the early years of life can affect child development and growth and may also lead to chronic disease later in life (WHO 1999).
The age of the mother can also affect the development of the foetus, with the risk of foetal complications increasing with pregnancies that occur in the teenage years and after about 35 years of age (Fraser et al. 1995; Fretts et al. 1995). Maternal age is also associated with perinatal health, with adverse outcomes more likely among younger and older mothers (Laws & Sullivan 2004).
This Chapter provides information on Indigenous mothers and their children. Maternal factors covered include fertility, maternal age, maternal mortality and risk factors during pregnancy. Factors related to infants and children include health status, hospitalisation and mortality.