This program will provide individual birth support for vulnerable women, while also establishing collaborative relationships with public maternity hospitals.
It will match 50 women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage with skilled volunteer birth support professionals (doulas) who will provide ongoing personal, practical and emotional support during pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting. In doing so it will increase women’s confidence and preparedness for pregnancy, birth and early parenting, and reduce social isolation – all proven ways of improving maternal and child health outcomes.
While doing so we will strengthen referral and service delivery partnerships with key public maternity hospitals in the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne. Together we will increase capacity to provide continuous care and support for women, babies and families and establish a system that sustains accessible, appropriate maternal health care for all.
What issues are addressed?
Australia has a first-class public health system, however, many socially and culturally diverse women face significant barriers to accessing appropriate maternal care.
We provide complementary personal, emotional and practical support to women across greater Melbourne who experience disadvantage during pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting. These include young women, women experiencing homelessness and/or family violence, women from new migrant, refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds, women with mental health issues, and women with no other support networks.
Working collaboratively with the public maternity sector, we model best-practice continuity of care to improve birth experiences and preparedness for birth, enabling a more equitable and respectful maternal health system in the process.
Alleviating suffering / disadvantage?
Chronically under-resourced hospitals mean maternity workers cannot provide the one-to-one women-centred care and support that women need. Evidence shows that women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage are even less likely to receive appropriate maternity care.
Continuous support prepares women for pregnancy, birth and parenting, resulting in better health outcomes for mothers and babies and less traumatic experiences. These health outcomes include higher birth weight of babies, reduced length of labour and lower rates of intervention such as caesarean section, and reduced incidence of postnatal depression and anxiety for mothers.
However, only 8 per cent of women in Australia see the same maternity worker during their pregnancy. Providing access to a doula who can support women to advocate for themselves is proven to improve women’s experiences and birth outcomes. The World Health Organisation recommends all women receive this type of support.
Changing Policy, Practices & Systems?
High levels of socioeconomic disadvantage, limited access to services, and a rapidly growing population in Melbourne’s Northern and Western suburbs has led to a spike in referrals from public hospitals and community organisations to our service that we currently cannot meet. Over 70% of women referred to us have no other support person identified in their lives.
Our doula support program models a best-practice system of care. In demonstrating the complementary role that continuity of support can have for women and babies, as well as creating an environment that prioritises individualised care within the hospital environment, our programs inform and educate maternity providers about how best to support women with complex care needs.
Meanwhile, this project will draw on the evidence gained from our programmatic work in specific hospitals to advocate for sustainable models of providing continuous support that complements the clinical care provided by the public maternity system.
Investing in or empowering women?
Through one-to-one matching with a doula, women will receive education and support to empower them to make informed decisions about their pregnancy, birth and early parenting choices. They will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to advocate for themselves and their child. The program has proven success in improving women’s confidence, resilience and preparedness for birth and early parenting – and can have a lasting impact on their ability to advocate for themselves and their rights.
Additionally, this program invests in the 85 volunteer doulas who have been inducted into our program, who provide critical birth support to vulnerable women and also work in many aligned roles (including student midwives, midwives, private practice doulas and childbirth educators). Through professional development training, counselling and supervision we have established an empowered and informed team of professionals working in the birth sector, whose impact extends beyond our immediate programs.
Media / Promotion?
A key organisational objective is to raise awareness of the barriers to care faced by women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage and advocating for the benefits of doula support. This includes targeted media engagement to highlight the systemic issues and raise awareness of the solutions and opportunities available.
To this end, on International Women’s Day 2020 we were interviewed by Female.com.au and RRR’s Radiotherapy.
Our media engagement plan includes:
Proactive engagement with industry media: Health and pregnancy outlets such as: ABC’s Health Report, ABC’s Babytalk podcast, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal, Babyology, Essential Baby, Mamamia’s Hello, Bump podcast, Nursing Review.
Proactive engagement of sector ambassadors, such as high-profile birth workers and influencers, such as mummy-bloggers – e.g. Zoe Foster Blake, Mia Freedman, Carrie Bickmore, Your Zen Mama
Reactive public media (online), responding to key events and debates related to maternal health.
How is success evaluated / measured?
Using our monitoring, evaluation and learning framework we will continually monitor the success of this program and make iterative adaptations as required to meet our outcomes. Our measures of success will include:
• Number of clients supported (quantitative data collection)
• % increase in self-reported confidence, resilience and preparedness for birth and early parenting (post-service evaluation surveys, case study interviews)
• Number of volunteer doulas participating in continual professional development (quantitative data collection)
• Number of referrals from new public maternity partners (quantitative data collection)