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Adelaide parents more likely to have low birthweight babies

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Adelaide parents are more likely to have a baby of low birthweight than those in most other Australian capital cities, a new report says.

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Adelaide mother Jodie Vidakovic’s twins, Mia and Grace, were born late last year at just under 35 weeks gestation, with birthweight under 2.5 kilograms.

Mia entered the world weighing 1.93 kilograms. Grace weighed 2.04 kilograms.

Their early birth was frightening for Vidakovic and her family.

“It was really scary,” she told InDaily.

“They were kept in the special care nursery … for almost two weeks after [birth].

“They were experiencing apnoea for a couple of days, [and] they weren’t able to regulate their body temperature.

“That was alarming, and something I wasn’t’ prepared for.”

The twins were eventually discharged from the hospital, once they were able to maintain a stable body temperature outside the incubator.

Now, at 18 weeks old, both baby girls are healthy, happy and growing normally.

“It [premature birth] is always a risk when you are having twins,” said Vidakovic.

“I have to say how amazing the public system was during my pregnancy.”

Mia (left) and Grace Vidakovic were born prematurely last year, but are now healthy, happy babies. Photo: supplied

According to the latest child and maternal health report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, babies born in Adelaide are more likely to be born at low birthweight.

The Child and Maternal Health 2013-2015 report, released last week, says Adelaide has a higher proportion of low birthweight births than interstate capital cities.

In Adelaide, 5.3 per cent of babies born between 2013 and 2015 were lighter than 2.5 kilograms, meeting the clinical definition of low birthweight.

During the same period, 4.9 per cent of babies in Western Sydney, 4.5 per cent on the Gold Coast and 3.7 per cent in North Sydney were underweight at birth.

“Birthweight is used globally as an indicator of a population’s health,” the report says.

“At the individual level, it is a key determinant of a baby’s health and survival.

“Low birthweight is closely linked with pre-term birth, with almost 3 in 4 low birthweight babies born pre-term – between 20 and 36 weeks gestation – in 2015.”

The highest rate of low birthweight babies among the regional primary health networks was in the Northern Territory, at 7.5 per cent. The network area covers the entire territory. Darwin does not have a dedicated metropolitan primary health network.

Clinical director of the women’s and babies division of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Dr Steven Scroggs, told InDaily that while low birthweight was more frequent in Adelaide than in other cities, the rate of infant mortality here is very low.

“While the Adelaide region is slightly above the national average in the number of babies born with a birth weight below 2,500gms, it’s encouraging that the number of deaths amongst infants and young children is lower in South Australia,” said Scroggs.

“[That is] a testament to the high level of care given to neonates at hospitals across the state.

“It’s also encouraging that the vast majority of South Australian women attend an antenatal visit in their first trimester – 80.1 per cent, compared with the national average of 61.5 per cent – which is vital to monitoring the health of mother and baby.”

He did not provide any explanation for Adelaide’s relatively high rate of low-birthweight births, but said that overall, “South Australia performs well both nationally and internationally on key indicators of child and maternal health”.

President-elect of the Paediatric & Child Health Division of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Dr Paul Coltitz, told InDaily that there was an over-representation of disadvantaged groups nationally – including families in lower socio-economic areas and Indigenous Australians – in babies born at low birthweight.

But it was “pretty uncommon in Australia” for a full-term baby to be born underweight, because of good access to nutritional food here.

He said chronic stress, obesity and smoking were among the risk factors for low birthweight.

The report also shows a huge disparity in the rates of smoking during pregnancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous mothers in Adelaide, and across the country.

In Adelaide, just over 51 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers smoked during pregnancy, compared to about 11 per cent of non-Indigenous mothers.

Scroggs added that: “The Women’s and Children’s Health Network strives to make ongoing improvements in caring for all mothers and babies, particularly within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

“Recently released Closing The Gap funding will contribute to improving outcomes for these women and babies.”

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