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Indigenous birthing services vital to health of mothers and babies  

[by Helen Pereira]

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Participant and midwife in the Birthing in Our Community program in Brisbane’s southern suburbs, Kyleigh Brown-Lolohea, with her daughters and belly cast made during her pregnancy. Image: supplied

Charles Darwin University midwifery researchers are calling for Indigenous-led birthing centres to expand across Australia after a seven-year study found a decrease in preterm births and an improvement in breastfeeding and antenatal care for First Nations families.

The paper “Effect of a Birthing on Country Service redesign on maternal and neonatal health outcomes for First Nations Australians: a prospective, non-randomised interventional trial" published today in The Lancet Global Health revealed preterm births were 50 per cent less likely in women accessing a designated Birthing on Country service in Brisbane’s south.

The study reported an almost 40 per cent increase in breastfeeding after discharge from hospital and an 80 per cent increase in women attending more than four antenatal sessions in pregnancy.

Lead author, Charles Darwin University Professor in Midwifery Sue Kildea said culturally safe birthing services should be widely available to Indigenous women.

“Even though First Nations health is a national priority, there has been no change in babies being born preterm - or too soon – since Closing the Gap in 2008,” Professor Kildea said.

“We have evidence gathered over seven years that culturally safe birthing services significantly improve the health of Indigenous mothers and babies.”

Professor Kildea said there were improved clinical outcomes for 766 Indigenous women and their babies, compared with the 656 who accessed standard maternity care at the hospital.

“Standard health services in Australia frequently do not meet the needs of First Nations peoples who are often excluded from decision-making around how they should operate,” she said.

“But Aboriginal Community Controlled Services need Federal Government help to access insurance and Medicare to be able to provide best practice midwifery services.

“These are key recommendations of the paper.”

The Brisbane service was established in 2013 on Yuggera and Turrbal Country by a partnership between the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Service and the Mater Mothers’ Hospital.

Charles Darwin University Professor in Indigenous Health Yvette Roe said the findings were important.  

“National policy recommends Birthing on Country services be tested – now we have the evidence of their benefits,” she said.  

“Let’s roll them out across Australia to improve the health of all First Nations mothers and babies.”

The researchers are hoping a regional service can go ahead at Nowra in New South Wales and a remote service is being explored at Galiwinku on Elcho Island in the far north-east of the Northern Territory.

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