National Women's Health Policy

Birth

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

While most births in Australia are vaginal deliveries, Australia has a comparatively high rate of caesarean section (30.3 per cent of births in 2007, compared to the OECD average of 25.7 per cent), and interventions are shown to be an increasing trend, with a rise of 4.7 per cent in caesarean sections to 2009.

Giving birth is much more than a physiological experience. It is a fundamental psychosocial event. In the context of increasing medical interventions in birth, many advocated for concepts of safety in maternity care to also embrace cultural and psychological issues. Australia is one of the safest countries in the world in which to give birth and/or to be born. Non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian women have one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world. In 2003–05, maternal mortality rates were one in every 11,896 women giving birth. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have one of the highest maternal mortality rates, with five times the rate of deaths during or shortly after pregnancy than women nationally.281 Women born in non-English speaking backgrounds account for at least 22 per cent of maternal deaths.282

Australia as a whole has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, at 4.1 per 1,000 live births.283 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infant mortality rates are significantly higher. Compared to non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies are 1.9 times as likely to be still born and 2.6 times as likely to die within 28 days of birth.284 Perinatal and neonatal mortality is higher amongst immigrant and refugee women in Victoria than the Victorian average.285

Low birth weight is correlated with poorer health outcomes later in life including coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies of low birth weight was 13.2 per cent in 2005, more than twice that of babies of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers (6.1 per cent).286