Australia was recently ranked 7th among 165 countries around the world for best places to be a mother. This is a truly fine achievement – an acknowledgement of the relative privilege many women in Australia enjoy. But before we start breaking open the lamingtons in celebration, is women’s health and wellbeing equally shared across the broad diversity of Australian mums? Or are some mums more equal than others?
Recent research conducted among 44,000 women has illustrated one tragic way that inequality reigns in the Australian birthing suite. The research found that immigrant and refugee women born in South Asia run double the risk of stillbirth in late pregnancy (between 37 and 42 weeks). While the reasons for this higher rate are yet unknown, the findings are alarming when you consider our increased migration over the past decade: one in every four Australian births is to a woman born overseas. If you happen to be thatwoman born overseas and about to give birth, you would want, and rightly expect, to know why your ethnicity is a risk factor. From the little we do know, immigrant and refugee women suffer poorer maternal health, are less likely to present for antenatal care before 20 weeks gestation, and are at greater risk of some health conditions such as gestational diabetes.
There are many steps mothers can take in the early stages of pregnancy that can reduce the risk of adverse birth outcomes and this includes ensuring that women are themselves informed and educated about the care they are entitled to receive. And health professionals have an ethical responsibility to provide the best possible care to all women to ensure the best possible outcomes. This is the message underlying the Common Threads Best Practice Guide for immigrant and refugee women’s sexual and reproductive health. Using real-life case studies, the Guide offers practical examples of cross-cultural understanding in health service provision.
Ethnicity awareness for expectant mothers shouldn’t only be about ordering women to undergo more tests, but also ensuring that our health workforce is adequately trained to communicate effectively with patients from various cultural backgrounds. Of course, governments need to take the lead in making sure such a policy becomes a reality. In the meantime, the Common Threads Best Practice Guide is essential reading.
Melbourne artist Tonia Composto created a series of Fairy Tales for Hope prints in memory of her friend’s stillborn daughter, Hope Angel Heppleston. You can read more about Hope’s story or buy a print for $20AUD each + $12 for shipping in Australia and raise money for the Stillbirth Foundation Australia.