Caesarean rate hits record high, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 'Mother and Babies' report shows

Despite a campaign by reproductive health professionals to reduce the number of births by caesarean section, the figure has hit a record high in Australia.

Almost one-third of all births in Australia are now caesareans, according to the latest mothers and babies report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The overall caesarean rate has reached 32.3 per cent, and has hit 49 per cent for women aged over 40.

Professor Hannah Dahlen, from the Australian College of Midwives, said the latest figures were unsurprising given the trend towards more caesareans but she still hoped to see a decline following a strong push by health professionals to raise the natural birth rate.

"Being born primes your immune system," she said. "We know that vaginal birth is better for mother and baby - women are healthier and are less likely to die and have complications during the birth."

Professor Dahlen also said that emerging evidence showed a "worrying" link between caesareans and type 1 diabetes and respiratory diseases later in life.

The Australian rate of caesarean section remains among the highest in the world, with the average rate for OECD countries at 25.8 per cent.

The trend of older first-time mothers was also starting to be reflected in other areas of the statistics, Professor Elizabeth Sullivan, from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, said.

"We've seen a decline in the proportion of teenage births and what we've seen at the same time is an increase in the proportion of mothers over 40," she said. "That goes with the increasing age of first-time mothers that we've been seeing for years."

The proportion of teenage mothers in Australia fell from 4.9 per cent to 3.7 per cent between 2002 and 2011, the institute's report shows.

Maternal age is a factor in determining risks in pregnancy - each end of the spectrum carries greater risk.

Teenage mothers were most likely to have smoked during their pregnancy, Professor Sullivan said. "Almost 36 per cent reported smoking during pregnancy, compared with 13 per cent of all mothers. Teenage mothers also have higher proportions of low birth-weight babies compared with women in other age groups, and the highest foetal, neonatal and perinatal death rates."

The number of babies born in Australia rose by 18.3 per cent between 2001 and 2011, to 301,810.

The average age of all mothers giving birth in 2011 was 30 years and mothers aged in range from under 15 to 55.

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