November 8, 2018

It takes a village: Koori Cuddlers at Northern Health

‘It takes a village to raise a child’, goes the African proverb, which nicely describes the Koori Maternity Service Program at Northern Health. The program pairs babies from families unable to be with their baby, with an aunt or guardian figure from the Aboriginal community.

Donna Wright, Gunditjmara woman, was at work when she received a call asking if she could come to the Northern Hospital Epping. Donna knows the Northern Hospital well, as more than one of her grandchildren were born here, with another on the way.

Yet it wasn’t her experience as a grandmother or her wisdom as an Aboriginal Elder the hospital was seeking. They needed Donna to simply cuddle the baby she is pictured with. She readily agreed.

The business of holding babies as much as possible, or what doctors and parents are increasingly referring to as ‘kangaroo care’, can have real developmental benefits. Babies who receive constant cuddling tend to sleep better, manage stress more easily and exhibit better autonomic functions such as heart rate. It also aids the weight gain and social development of the cuddled babies.

The cuddling program at Northern Health takes on an added significance to Koori mothers. The mums are comforted knowing their child is in the care of someone they look up to and respect in their community, states Jo Quinn – Aboriginal Health Worker, Koori Maternity Service, who runs the program at Northern Health.

“The program, which is probably the first of its kind in Victoria, offers a culturally safe space for Koori mums, respecting their customs and traditions and in turn, providing the comfort and reassurance they need at this critical stage of motherhood,” says Jo.

“The Koori Maternity Service serves as a good example of the emphasis on ‘Trust’ Northern Health places, in its mission to provide Trusted Care to the communities in the north,” says Deb Bourne, General Manager – Access, Women’s, Children’s and Surgical Inpatient and Director Nursing, Northern Hospital.