A local RFDS project with the potential to go nationwide will benefit new mums living in rural and remote areas.
The ‘Bush Babies’ support program will be launched this month by RFDS community midwives via video conferencing to connect women going through pregnancy and the first six months of motherhood with professional and peer support.
RFDS Community Midwife Caitlyn Keller, who has worked in Port Augusta for four years, identified the need through her regular engagement with remote communities and has been the driving force behind the initiative.
She said new mums living remotely, such as on outback stations, struggled to maintain strong social networks.
“I’m really excited about ‘Bush Babies’. In my job, I get to see rural and remote mums on an individual basis, but to bring them together and let them see they’re not the only ones having these struggles is a massive benefit for rural communities as a whole,” Caitlyn said.
“These mums are the most resilient women I have ever met. They often take on the bulk of care for newborns as their partners must upkeep the station work.
“Given the isolation of some of these places, their closest support may be a couple of thousand kilometres away.
“I talked to a mum who hadn’t grown up remotely – she had moved to a station after meeting her husband. They have children, but they can’t just pop down to a coffee shop or a playgroup like her friends in town would.
“Being a mum wherever you are comes with the challenges of keeping a household going. Some of the women I meet through the RFDS live on a property that’s a third of the size of Switzerland.”
Caitlyn said ‘Bush Babies’ would be supported by the full breadth of expertise in the RFDS Primary Health team and would cover topics such as mental health, childhood development milestones, sleep and nutrition.
“We will then open the floor to our parents and it’s more going to be a chat about what they may have found challenging that week.”
Families in outback SA have welcomed the idea of the program.
Anna Nunn, from Wertaloona Station in South Australia’s far north, said having a connection with other parents in the area would be a real bonus. She said there was already an existing rapport between families and RFDS midwives through the monthly scheduled visits.
“But once the baby is born and you are back at home, there is nothing else on offer,” she said.
“Having a child in the outback is completely different to town. Help isn’t just around the corner. I’d love to see this idea go national.”
Kathleen Waterman from Cowarie Station, who is expecting her first child, said the Flying Doctor was “already like an extension of our family".
“If there’s any problems, I already know I can pick up the phone and talk to the RFDS. They fix us and put us back together,” she said.
Maria Madsen, originally from Denmark and now enjoying station life with her husband and toddler, is expecting her second baby. She said even before the idea of ‘Bush Babies’ was mooted, she was in awe of the service provided.
“Coming from Denmark I did not know how much work the RFDS did until I moved here.
“Even something as simple as going for a check-up, it’s 2000km to Adelaide and back – that’s a long way and a long time to sit up straight in a car when you’re pregnant.
“Having them on call, it’s a life saver.”The ‘Bush Babies’ program will initially be offered to SA and NT remote families already utilising RFDS services.