August 21, 2019

OPAL Clinic empowering women in pregnancy

The Obesity, Pregnancy and Lifestyle (OPAL) clinic at Northern Hospital is a specialised clinic that provides antenatal care to pregnant women with an elevated body mass index (BMI>40) and/or women who have had previous bariatric surgery such as gastric band, gastric sleeve and gastric bypass surgeries.

Midwife, Nicole Kuehlich-Zippel, said the clinic offers continuity of care in which women and their families see the same midwife, obstetrician and dietitian throughout their antenatal care. This provides an opportunity for women to know their healthcare provider and feel more comfortable.

“Weight stigma is commonly experienced by people in larger bodies. Some women who have an elevated BMI can feel judged about their weight or have had negative experiences about their body weight. The OPAL clinic aims to provide collaborative care that is non-judgmental and helps to support women in healthy choices and feeling empowered in their pregnancy. Women can feel safe and confident to ask any questions or concerns they may have,” she said.

While many women with increased body weight will have uncomplicated pregnancies and births, there are increased risks that may arise such as diabetes, high blood pressure and caesarean birth. The OPAL clinic closely monitors women and their babies during pregnancy and works to safely manage any complications that may develop. Women can easily be referred to other specialists if needed such as diabetic educators, endocrinologists or medical obstetric doctors.

OPAL obstetrician, Dr Sujata Hemrajani, specialises in obstetric ultrasound. She said women with elevated BMIs are able to have routine growth ultrasounds during their OPAL antenatal visits, to monitor how their baby is growing. Having a specialist obstetrician perform these scans improves accuracy of scanning, continuity and is more convenient for women.

“Many women in high risk clinics at Northern Hospital do not see a midwife during their antenatal care. Women in the OPAL clinic will continue to see a midwife throughout their pregnancy in collaboration with obstetric care. The OPAL midwife can provide added support and advice about pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period with baby,” she said.

Dietitian, Electra Ulrich, added that providing specialised nutrition support through a dietitian can help improve nutritional intake during pregnancy, and work with women to make positive and sustainable lifestyle changes.

“For those women who’ve had bariatric surgery, nutrient absorption is reduced, so close monitoring is provided including vitamin and mineral blood tests,” she said.

Since commencing just over 12 months ago, the OPAL clinic has supported over 80 women during their pregnancy.