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Prenatal program helps Indigenous mums and bubs thrive

Eelemarni Close-Brown -

When Natalie Page went into labour suddenly with her first baby she was quite frightened.

Ms Page's mother drove her to the nearest hospital to give birth to her oldest daughter Emariah.

"I was so scared, my mother had a very traumatic time giving birth and I kept thinking, 'What if this is me? What if I don't make it?'," Ms Page said.

But by the time she had her third daughter Unarra at the Mater Mothers' Hospital she benefited from having a midwife by her side who made her feel at ease.

Birthing in Our Community (BiOC) is a partnership program between Mater Hospital, the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service Brisbane (ATSICHS).

The prenatal health care program, now in its 10th year, is promoting a self-determination model that prioritises Indigenous mums' physical and mental wellbeing.

Ms Page said she benefited and wished she had been able to access the BiOC program with her first pregnancy.

"They have provided so many services, including transport to medical appointments and have been there to provide milk and bread if needed," she said.

ATSICHS Brisbane chief executive Renee Blackman said the success of the birthing program showed what could be achieved when partners worked together with a shared vision and commitment to Aboriginal-led models of care.

"Every mum at BiOC gets their own midwife 24/7 working side by side with a multidisciplinary workforce to make sure all our women feel confident and safe to access the care they need for themselves and their bub," Ms Blackman said.

The program provides comprehensive and culturally safe maternal and infant health services, which contribute to closing the gap in health outcomes for Indigenous mums and their newborn babies.

A paper published in the medical journal The Lancet said the BiOC model had demonstrated a reduction in preterm births, nursery admissions and low birth weight, which was helping to close the health care gap for First Nations babies.

It found that the program successfully reduced two-thirds of out-of-pocket expenses by bringing the service closer to women and providing free transport. 

IUIH chief executive Adrian Carson said improved outcomes demonstrated the success of Aboriginal community-controlled health services (ACCHSs) leading reform with mainstream maternity services, such as Mater Mothers' Hospital.

"The ACCHS sector has long advocated that models of care specifically designed for First Nations people and delivered by ACCHSs can achieve better outcomes for our people and be more cost-effective," Mr Carson said.

Mater chief medical officer Associate Professor Mike Beckmann said that the program had promoted a move towards a model that was about community.

"Health and wellbeing should be more than hospitals, it is feeling safe, connected and understood," Mr Beckmann said.

"It is about meeting your physical needs as well as your emotional, psychological, spiritual and cultural needs, and that's exactly what this program does."

Eelemarni Close-Brown - AAP

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