National Women's Health Policy

Access to maternal health care

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Access to antenatal and postnatal care is important for the health of pregnant women and their developing foetuses. Risk factors that can be addressed through antenatal care include anaemia, poor nutrition, hypertension, diabetes and glucose intolerance, genital and urinary tract infections, and smoking.291 Antenatal care can also provide an opportunity for mothers to learn about breastfeeding and to establish support networks.

Access to antenatal care is especially important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Compared with other women, access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women generally occurred later in pregnancy, and less frequently. Fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers attend five or more antenatal sessions compared to other mothers. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers who attended antenatal care were less likely to have low birth weight babies (13 per cent) than those who did not attend (39 per cent).

For rural and remote communities, accessing appropriate maternity services raises particular issues. What exacerbates this is the need for ongoing care throughout the pregnancy and, for higher risk pregnancies, the requirement for a significant period of hospitalisation before and sometimes after the birth. Even in a low-risk pregnancy where a woman has access to a general practitioner, she may still have to travel a considerable distance in anticipation of the birth or for some aspects of her antenatal or postnatal care.