Reports and publications (published elsewhere)

Trends in the health of mothers and babies Northern Territory 1986 – 2005

Posted on: 13 October, 2010
Issue: Vol 10 No 4, October - December 2010
Related to Births Health measurement Hospitalisation Infants and young children Remote Rural Urban Women Pregnancy Northern Territory

Zhang X, Dempsey K, Johnstone K, Guthridge S (2010)
Trends in the health of mothers and babies, Northern Territory: 1986-2005.
Darwin: Northern Territory Department of Health and Families

The NT Midwives’ Collection is Australia’s longest time series of maternal and infant health data available by Indigenous status with the dataset covering a 20-year period from 1986 to 2005. This has presented an unprecedented opportunity to report long-term changes to the perinatal profile of Indigenous and non-Indigenous mothers and babies. The NT Midwives’ Collection is the key data source for the annual NT perinatal report, Northern Territory Midwives’ Collection: Mothers and babies, and contributes to the annual national report, Australia’s mothers and babies. Information from the NT Midwives’ Collection is also used to formulate important indicators such as the incidence of low birth weight babies, teenage pregnancies, and gestational age at first antenatal visit, as well as neonatal and perinatal death rates. This report provides a detailed overview of perinatal trends and changes to the health profile of NT resident mothers and babies, for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women.

Key Findings:

  • Total babies born in the NT (including fetal deaths)
    • Over the 1986 to 2005 period there were 68,075 babies born in the NT to 67,311 NT resident mothers, 36% of whom were Indigenous.
    • The average annual count of Indigenous babies rose from 1112 per year to 1348 (21% increase), and for non-Indigenous babies from 2128 per year to 2218 (4% increase).
  • Fertility
    • The total fertility rate (TFR) of Indigenous women declined significantly from 2.5 to 2.4. The TFR of non-Indigenous women remained relatively stable at 1.9.
  • Average age of mothers
    • The average age of all mothers increased over time, including first-time mothers. The average age of non-Indigenous first-time mothers increased from 25.2 to 27.5 years of age and Indigenous first-time mothers from 18.5 to 19.4 years of age.
  • Antenatal care
    • The proportion of Indigenous mothers attending their first antenatal visit during the first trimester rose significantly from 17% to 38%, and from 49% to 65% for non-Indigenous mothers.
    • The trend for smoking during pregnancy declined among non-Indigenous mothers but rose among Indigenous mothers. By the early 2000s 53% of Indigenous mothers and 22% of non-Indigenous mothers reported smoking during pregnancy.
    • The proportion of mothers with induced onset of labour rose significantly, from 10% to 16% for Indigenous mothers and 19% to 24% for non-Indigenous mothers.
    • Similarly, the proportion of mothers who had a caesarean section delivery also rose over time, particularly among non-Indigenous mothers.
  • Labour or childbirth complication(s)
    • Fetal distress was consistently the most frequently reported childbirth complication.
    • The proportion of mothers who had a post-partum haemorrhage doubled over time.
    • The proportion of mothers who had a perineal tear increased from 40% to 44% for Indigenous mothers and from 41% to 47% for non-Indigenous.
  • Pregnancy-related hospital admissions
    • The prevalence of gestational diabetes among antenatal women increased from 6% to 8% for Indigenous mothers and from 4% to 6% for non-Indigenous mothers.
    • Indigenous mothers were more likely than non-Indigenous mothers to experience gestational diabetes, hypertension complicating pregnancy and puerperal sepsis.
  • Low birthweight
    • The proportion of Indigenous babies with low birthweight (less than 2500 grams), declined from 15% to 14%. There was no change in the proportion of non-Indigenous low birthweight babies.
    • The gap between the average birthweight of Indigenous and non-Indigenous babies lessened over time. By the 2000s the gap was just less than 250 grams.
  • Preterm
    • The proportion of preterm Indigenous babies rose from 13% to 15%. The non-Indigenous proportion of preterm babies also rose, from 6% to 8%.
    • Babies born to rural-remote based Indigenous mothers were more likely to be preterm.
  • Low Apgar score
    • An Indigenous baby was twice as likely to be born with a low Apgar score (less than 7 at five minutes) compared with a non-Indigenous baby.
    • The proportion of Indigenous babies born with a low Apgar declined significantly, from 6% to 4%.
  • Perinatal deaths
    • Indigenous perinatal death rates declined considerably, falling from 39 deaths per 1000 total births to 23. This was largely due to a substantial fall in fetal deaths over time. Indigenous neonatal deaths also declined, but to a much lesser extent.
    • There was a similar trend among non-Indigenous babies. The non-Indigenous perinatal death rate fell from 14 deaths per 1000 total births to 11, this gain almost entirely due the neonatal death rate halving over time.

Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet abstract

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