International Handbook of Adolescent Pregnancy

pp 191-203


Adolescent Pregnancy in Australia

  • Lucy N. LewisAffiliated with School of Nursing and Midwifery, Curtin University and King Edward Memorial Hospital Email author 
  • , S. Rachel SkinnerAffiliated withDiscipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, Sydney University and Children’s Hospital Westmead

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Adolescent pregnancy is a major health, social, and economic issue for Australia. Although there has been a downward trend in the number of Australian adolescents giving birth since the 1980s, the rate of Indigenous adolescent pregnancy is declining at a slower rate and is high when compared with the average rate of Australian adolescent pregnancy. In Australia, adolescent mothers are more likely to be: single, smoke, have high levels of illicit and licit substance use, live in an area of socioeconomic disadvantage, have pregnancies with uncertain dates, have partners at increased risk of exposure to domestic violence and family dysfunction as children, and partners who are often involved with illegal activities especially illicit drugs. Over the last few decades, the median age of first pregnancy has increased significantly but not for non Indigenous girls. When Indigenous adolescents are compared with non Indigenous adolescents, Indigenous girls are more likely to smoke, have anemia, and experience pregnancy-induced hypertension. Providing Indigenous adolescents with culturally appropriate and accessible contraceptive services should be an integral part of this process. This is important in terms of reducing Indigenous adolescent mothers exposure to the increased social inequality associated with adolescent pregnancy. There are a number of maternal risk factors (e.g., smoking and being an Indigenous adolescent) which may precipitate medical and obstetric conditions resulting in adverse birth outcomes such as preterm delivery, low birth weight, and stillbirth. These maternal risk factors may be individual, psychological, or behavioral and identifying the individual pathways of the association between these maternal risk factors and adverse birth outcomes is difficult as they are likely to be multifaceted. Greater understanding of the issues that surround adolescent pregnancy should be a high priority for Australia, especially in terms of evidence to assist with the development of effective intervention programs.


Australian adolescent pregnancy Birth outcomes Domestic violence Emergency contraceptive pill First intercourse Illicit and licit drug use Indigenous adolescents Low birth weight Rapid repeat adolescent pregnancy Sexually transmitted infection