Prematurity in First Nations Australians

16 Oct 2022

Health discrepancies between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians begin early in life. Preterm birth rates for Indigenous mothers are roughly 1.7x higher than non-indigenous mothers (13% and 8%, respectively). Further, a study by the Australian Insitute of Health and Welfare found that the risk of death among preterm babies born to First Nations mothers was 8% higher than non-preterm babies.  

Some of the known correlations of prematurity are:

  • inadequate antenatal care
  • mother residing in a remote location
  • stress caused by specific social conditions
  • infections, and
  • low BMI.  

Women living in remote areas, or areas with little access to health care, statistically experience poorer health overall, less antenatal care and have a higher chance of preterm birth. 

Indigenous Australians are more likely to experience health poverty, with a much lower life expectancy (61 years in 2020), compared to non-indigenous Australians (83.20 years in 2020) and live in rural and remote areas. Factors influenced by specific social conditions, such as housing, education and access to food can also affect health overall and this is reflected in the higher incidence of premature birth among First Nations people.

What can we do about this? 

Studies have shown that removing the barriers to healthcare, and increasing access to appropriate, high quality care 'on country' from pregnancy and beyond is essential for improving lifelong health outcomes for preterm birth and Indigenous Australians overall. Programs such as the Birthing in Our Community Program at Maters Mothers Hospital in Brisbane, Queensland are helping to improve outcomes and reduce the risk of premature birth. As the program uses an approach developed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, it addresses cultural needs and provides women with specialised health services in the community. Since the program began in 2013, it has almost halved the risk of preterm babies for Indigenous mothers. 

For more information see related articles below or detailed source information below.

Australia's Health 2022: In Brief

Pregnancy and Birth Outcomes

Reducing Preterm Birth amoung Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Babies

If you have had a premature baby and need support, please see below

Preterm Infants Parents Association

Life's Little Treasures

Miracle Babies Foundation

This information has been reviewed by Neonatologist, Dr John Smyth.

Disclaimer: This information by Running for Premature Babies Foundation is educational and informative in nature and is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. For further information, please Contact Us.

Image credit: ABC