Indigenous affairs

Study says we need to do better for Aboriginal Mums

Health researchers have called on Western Australia’s hospitals to ‘close the gap’ in Aboriginal maternity care in the wake of concerning new research findings. 

Results of a study into the maternal wellbeing of Aboriginal women were presented at the conference The Birthing on Noongar Boodjar this week.

Director of Ngangk Yirk Research centre, at Murdoch University, Rhonda Marriott said despite culturally sensitive care training, evidence showed Aboriginal women experienced culturally unsafe care during their maternity journey.

“It’s time to strengthen efforts to establish honest and respectful relationships between health professionals and Aboriginal women,” said Professor Marriott.

“We need to understand what women want and ensure that they get the right maternity care, especially culturally rich birthing experiences in hospitals, and safer assisted births in the bush.”

The four-year project involved interviewing 39 Aboriginal women, elders and midwifery educators across the state.

Professor Marriott said the findings revealed some women did not have any contact with another Aboriginal person during their childbirth experience and many

felt alone as their family members were often unable to attend.

“Cultural needs of Aboriginal women are not always met or acknowledged once they reach the maternity wards of our hospitals,” said Professor Marriott. 

According to the researcher, more Aboriginal midwives, family support and birthing ‘on country’ were crucial to the women’s maternal wellbeing.

Albany elder Carol Pettersen agreed Aboriginal women should have more choice of birthing on country. 

“In the old times a woman chose where she was going to go and there’d be a spiritual connection between the child and that place of birth,” she said.

“The after-birth was traditionally buried where the child was born and that made the connection—the blood birth had to go into the ground.”

Ms Pettersen says medical institutions have too much control over the childbirth process and will always be against on country birth as so many things could go wrong. 

Professor Marriott said the solutions were simple.

“They only require a change in attitudes, some kindness, and culturally secure maternity care – none of which add to the cost of ensuring high-quality maternity care services.”

But Ms Pettersen said the discussion of solutions were not the health experts’ prerogative. 

“We—the Aboriginal, Noongar people—need to have a debate about this.

“We need to decide whether we want to go back to the traditional ways, why we do it, who could assist it and what changes need to be made.”

You can hear more of our interview with Carol Pettersen here: