Department of Health

Although the mortality rate for babies born to Aboriginal women has decreased in recent years, Aboriginal mothers and babies continue to have poorer outcomes than non-Aboriginal mothers and babies (Department of Health and Human Services 2017).

A gap still exists between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women on two key issues: smoking during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Smoking during pregnancy

There are many risks associated with smoking during pregnancy, including miscarriage, early labour and growth and developmental problems for babies.

Victorian data indicates that 36.9 per cent of Aboriginal women smoked in the first half of pregnancy compared with 8.2 per cent of non-Aboriginal women (Department of Health and Human Services 2017).

Further effort is required to strengthen the effectiveness of smoking cessation programs available to Aboriginal mothers to improve smoking cessation rates.

This includes better promotion, accessibility, affordability and cultural appropriateness of programs.

Any improvements in smoking rates will achieve better health outcomes for Aboriginal mothers and infants (Department of Health and Human Services 2017).


Breastfeeding promotes and supports the healthy development and growth of infants (Department of Health and Human Services 2017).

It is one of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant and herself. It offers protection against several childhood health concerns such as infections, diabetes, childhood obesity and asthma.

Breastfeeding also contributes to better health outcomes for mothers and promotes opportunities for bonding between mother and baby.

Aboriginal women are less likely to initiate breastfeeding than non-Aboriginal women: 87 per cent compared with 94.6 per cent respectively (Department of Health and Human Services 2017).

In addition, the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey found the rates of Aboriginal infants exclusively breastfed (less than one month) to be 59 per cent compared with non-Aboriginal infants at 61 per cent (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011).

The Department of Health and Human Services is continuing to work to improve the health outcomes of all women and babies, including those from the Aboriginal community.

Find out more

Access the Chief Health Officer's page on Aboriginal health.

The Better Health Channel’s pregnancy and smoking pageExternal Link .

The Better Health Channel’s breastfeeding pageExternal Link .


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011, Australian national infant feeding survey: indicator results, AIHW, Canberra.

Better Health Channel 2018, Pregnancy and smoking, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.

Department of Health and Human Services 2017, Victoria's mothers, babies and children 2017, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.

Reviewed 17 April 2023

Your health: Report of the Chief Health Officer, Victoria, 2018

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