March 15, 2019

Happy Mothers Group: Combining culture and community

The Assyrian/Chaldean population mainly displaced from Iraq, make up a large sector of the refugee population in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Women of refugee backgrounds are at risk of poor maternal and perinatal outcomes and are more likely to have complex health needs. They also face multiple barriers accessing pregnancy care or navigating health systems in Australia.

Northern Health was selected by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) to be one of four regions in Melbourne to pilot an innovative approach to antenatal and postnatal care. This is how the ‘Happy Mothers Group Pregnancy Care’ sessions were born.

The sessions run fortnightly at Craigieburn Centre and cover topics on pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, breast feeding, health and well being.

The Happy Mothers team consists of team leader Marie Treloar – Midwife and Childbirth and Parenting Educator (Northern Health), Bronwyn Madigan – Maternal and Child Health Nurse (Hume Council), May Khoshaba – Interpreter (Northern Health), Michelle Griffiths – Parent Support Worker (Hume Council) and Maria Toma – Bicultural Worker (VICSEG New Futures).

The overall aim of the group is to improve the engagement of families of refugee background in pregnancy and postnatal care, early childhood health and health literacy, as well as reduce social isolation.

The team encourages the women to share their experiences of pregnancy, labour, birth, breast feeding and parenting overseas and in Australia.

“This encourages good positive chatter within the Assyrian/Chaldean community. It’s really about helping these women navigate their way through the system,” Marie says.

“They may see their health care professionals and leave a health service feeling upset or powerless if they have not understood the systems and procedures, and don’t feel comfortable with what has been recommended for them,” she continues.

Marie says women need to enquire to make informed choices, and is a strong advocate for any population that can be vulnerable because English is not their first language or they have limited understanding of the healthcare system.

“We’ve had women who are birthing at other hospitals come to our group because we are the only Assyrian/Chaldean Group Pregnancy Care Program in Melbourne. The women find community and familiarity within their own culture, and they get the evidenced-based education to navigate their healthcare needs within local health and community services,” Marie explains.

The group is also working on improving breastfeeding rates and parenting experiences, with expectant mothers receiving a lot of education during and after pregnancy.

The program involves inter-agency collaboration between public maternity hospitals, settlement services and maternal and child health (MCH) services.

For more information about Happy Mothers Group Pregnancy Care sessions, please email