The number of caesarean section births is continuing to rise, according to data presented in a new report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Professor Michael Chapman, Head of the School of Women's and Children's Health, UNSW, said that of all women who gave birth in 2003, the majority (60.3%) had a spontaneous vaginal birth, but that caesarean sections were still increasing.
The report, Australia's Mothers and Babies 2003, prepared by AIHW's National Perinatal Statistics Unit (NPSU), shows that in that year, 28.5% of mothers had a caesarean section delivery, compared with 19.4% in 1994.
Of caesarean sections in 2003, 57.9% were without labour, while 41.9% were with labour.
'Caesarean section rates tend to be higher among older mothers and those admitted to private hospitals,' Professor Chapman said.
For women who gave birth in hospitals, 37.4% of those in private hospitals had a caesarean section compared with 25.7% of those in public hospitals.
Caesarean sections were less frequent among Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander mothers; 23.3% of whom delivered by caesarean section, compared with 28.8% of other mothers.
Among mothers who had given birth previously, 23.1% had previously had a caesarean section. The majority of these mothers (81.4%) had another caesarean section in 2003.
Caesarean section deliveries were common for babies with breech presentations at birth. Of these babies, 87.3% were delivered by caesarean section.
Over the period 1994-2003, instrumental deliveries, including forceps and vacuum extraction deliveries, decreased from 11.7% to 10.7%.
In 2003, forceps deliveries occurred in 3.9% of mothers, while deliveries by vacuum extraction accounted for 6.8%.
There were 256,925 babies reported to the National Perinatal Data Collection, born to 252,584 mothers in 2003.
Of these mothers 8,857 were Indigenous, making up 3.6% of all women who gave birth in Australia in 2003.
'The average age of all mothers was 29.5 years, and for first-time mothers, 27.6 years, continuing the upward trend seen in maternal age in recent years,' Professor Chapman said.
While one in 25 mothers intended to give birth outside of a conventional labour-ward setting in 2003 (4.0%), only 2.8% of mothers actually did so, giving birth in places such as birth centres or at home.
Multiple pregnancies accounted for 1.7% of all pregnancies and included 4,179 twin pregnancies, 76 triplet pregnancies and four quadruplet pregnancies.