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Abstract

Objectives: To improve, by culturally appropriate means, birthweights and growth of children up to three years of age over 14 months in five Aboriginal communities in north-western Australia.

Methods: Frequent individual nutritional assessment of infants and children with counselling of mothers and carers and of pregnant women and the introduction of the Aboriginal-controlled Strong Women, Strong Babies, Strong Culture maternal support program. Outcomes compared with those in the same communities for the five years preceding intervention.

Results: By international standards, pre-intervention birthweights of full-term infants (37–42 weeks) were only moderately depressed and recovered to exceed standard weight-for-age within two weeks of birth. Growth of full-term infants slowed abruptly after six months. Prevalence and duration of breastfeeding were very high. Prevailing low average birthweight was chiefly attributable to a prevalence of pre-term birth approaching 20%. Intervention was not accompanied by any change in full-term birth weight but was associated with increased weight gain after six months. From 12 to 36 months growth rose by 30 g per month (p=0.001). Average birthweights of pre-term infants were <2,500 g and average weight-for-age did not improve during intervention.

Conclusions: Both low birthweight and a disproportionate part of intransigent failure to grow by Aboriginal infants were associated with pre-term birth. Depressed average growth of full-term infants appeared to respond to nutritional counselling accompanied by a community support program.

Implications: Investigation of the causes of the exceptionally high rate of Aboriginal pre-term birth in the region is urgently required.