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This paper provides an overview of the birthweight of babies born to Indigenous mothers, including recent trends and information on factors associated with birthweight variation.
Almost 4% of all babies born in 2011 were to Indigenous mothers
In 2011, a total of 11,729 Indigenous mothers gave birth to 11,895 babies according to data from the National Perinatal Data Collection. These babies represented 3.9% of all births in 2011. Nearly all (99%) births to Indigenous mothers in 2011 were live births (rather than stillborn); this is the same proportion as for births to non-Indigenous mothers.
Newborns of Indigenous mothers were twice as likely to be of low birthweight
In 2011 and considering liveborn babies only:
Gap in birthweight has narrowed over a decade
Between 2000 and 2011, there was a statistically significant decrease in the low birthweight rate among liveborn singleton babies of Indigenous mothers, with the rate declining by 9% over the period (or by 0.1 low birthweight babies per 100 live births annually).
In contrast, there was no significant change in the corresponding rate for non-Indigenous mothers. As such, there was a statistically significant narrowing of the gap in the rate for Indigenous and non-Indigenous mothers between 2000 and 2011.
Decline in rate of pre-term births to Indigenous mothers and smoking during pregnancy
A wide range of factors are associated with birthweight, including pre-term births and maternal smoking during pregnancy. In 2011, 12.5% of liveborn babies of Indigenous mothers were born pre-term, as were 7.5% of babies born to non-Indigenous mothers. Between 2000 and 2011, the rate of pre-term births among liveborn singleton babies of Indigenous mothers declined (by 7%), and the Indigenous to non-Indigenous gap in the pre-term birth rate narrowed significantly.
Half (50%) of all Indigenous mothers who gave birth in 2011 reported smoking during pregnancy, as did 12% of non-Indigenous mothers. Smoking during pregnancy declined between 2005 and 2011, but improvement was greater among non-Indigenous mothers (25% drop) than Indigenous mothers (6% drop).
While the focus of this paper is on national data about the birthweight of babies born to Indigenous mothers, data about Indigenous babies are available for 6 jurisdictions for 2011. Of all liveborn Indigenous babies born in 2011 in the 6 jurisdictions, 11.5% were of low birthweight. National data about Indigenous babies will be available from 2012 onwards.