More Indigenous birthing centres needed

·2-min read

More Indigenous birthing centres are needed to reduce pre-term births and improve health outcomes for First Nations mothers and babies, midwifery researchers say.

A specialised birthing on country service could improve clinical outcomes for mothers and infants compared with standard care services, a seven-year Charles Darwin University study has found.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander maternal and infant health continue to lag behind national targets and are significantly worse than those for non-Indigenous families.

"Even though First Nations health is a national priority, there has been no change in babies being born pre-term - or too soon - since Closing the Gap in 2008," midwifery expert Sue Kildea said.

"Culturally safe birthing services could significantly improve the health of Indigenous mothers and babies."

Risky premature births were 50 per cent less likely for women using an Indigenous birthing service, researchers found.

There was also a 40 per cent increase in breastfeeding after hospital discharge and an 80 per cent increase in women attending more than four antenatal sessions during pregnancy.

Prof Kildea said there were improved clinical outcomes for 766 Indigenous women and their babies using specialised birthing on country service in Brisbane, compared with 656 who accessed standard hospital care.

"Standard health services in Australia frequently don't meet the needs of First Nations peoples who are often excluded from decision-making around how they should operate," she said.

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

It has Indigenous governance, an increased Indigenous workforce focused on family wellbeing and birthing, and parenting practices that identify and draw on the strengths of children, families and communities.

Midwives are also assigned to mothers throughout their pregnancy, labour and birth and the postnatal period, and non-Indigenous workers receive cultural training.

"Let's roll them out across Australia to improve the health of all First Nations mothers and babies," Indigenous health expert Yvette Roe said.

The feasibility of remote service at Galiwinku on Elcho Island, in the far northeast of the Northern Territory, and a regional service at Nowra in NSW are currently being explored.

Prof Kildea said Aboriginal community-controlled services need federal government help to access insurance and Medicare to be able to provide best practice midwifery services.

The research was published in The Lancet Global Health.