The challenges of being a first-time mum in remote Australia

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 Photo: Getty Images

With no family close by, limited access to essential services and sometimes hundreds of kilometres separating you from the neighbours, life can be tough for new parents in the outback. 

Welcoming your first baby is an exciting and often anxious time. But for new parents in the most remote parts of our country, living away from family, friends and even essential services brings about a unique set of challenges.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's Australian Mothers and Babies Report, 2.5 per cent of babies born in our country in 2013 were born to women who live in areas considered to be 'remote' or 'very remote'.

Rebekah Lampson, creator of the Outback Aussi Mums Facebook group, lives with her husband and three children in rural ...
Rebekah Lampson, creator of the Outback Aussi Mums Facebook group, lives with her husband and three children in rural Queensland.  Photo: Supplied

While that may sound like a small percentage, it equates to just over 7500 remote bundles of joy. And sometimes the nearest centre equipped to offer antenatal care and deliver those babies is hundreds of kilometres from home.

Lauren, 29, is a primary school teacher who was living in Western Australia's Fitzroy Crossing when she had her first baby last year. For Lauren and her husband Tom, an 800 kilometre round trip for antenatal classes was a reality – as was leaving home weeks before the baby's due date to wait it out in Broome.  

"They keep a pretty close eye on you and advise you to leave accordingly," says Lauren, who stayed with friends for the last two weeks of her pregnancy. "Tom was back home working and I rang him to come to Broome the night I went into labour. He had to drive really slowly till the sun began to rise so he didn't hit any cattle on the way."

The couple prepared as carefully as possible for all scenarios, including early labour. "If that happened while I was still in Fitzroy Crossing, the Royal Flying Doctor Service would have airlifted me out to either Derby or Broome," says Lauren.

In the end, their baby boy was delivered safely and they left hospital 24 hours later to stay in holiday accommodation with both sets of the baby's grandparents, who had flown from Victoria. "It was fabulous to have family there for that first week, and we were visited by a midwife every day before we drove home a week later." 

Navigating pregnancy and birth is one thing, but how do we look after the physical and emotional health of our most isolated mums once they're home with a new addition? 

Women's Health Queensland Wide is one organisation with a strong focus on supporting these women. The not-for-profit group runs the Midwife Check-In Program, giving new mums without access to a health care centre the chance to have a midwife phone them regularly to see how they're coping.

Health Educator Belinda Kippen says the demand for the service is overwhelming. "Often young women go to these places for their partner's work, so they're without a support network of friends and family," she says. "We went to Mount Isa to recruit and within three hours, we'd met 60 new mums who wanted to use the service. That's pretty incredible. "

A key focus of the program is good emotional and mental health. The educators raise awareness of the symptoms and risk factors around postnatal depression and give advice on when and where to seek help.

"I remember talking to a woman on a station property up in the Gulf," says Kippen. "She said 'Look, things are really tough, I'm tearful most days, I think I might have postnatal depression, but I don't know what to do.' Not having people around to get that diagnosis and referral is tough."

Along with limited access to health professionals, another major challenge is the lack of friends or family close by to lend a hand. So when the going got tough for Rebekah Lampson, she took matters into her own hands and built an online community.

Rebekah, a wool classer and mum of three from rural Queensland, is the founder of the Outback Aussi Mums Facebook page. "After the birth of my twins I had three kids under three and I just felt so isolated. I thought, 'There must be so many young girls out here with nobody to ask for advice on things like teething or nappy rash'."  

Along with general support, the page helps parents deal with the other logistics of living away from populated areas. When it's a couple of hours drive to the nearest supermarket or pharmacy, being caught short on nappies, formula and other supplies is especially hard.

"Most of our pantries are stocked up like little shops, because lots of girls don't get into town very often. So if you run out of something, you help each other out with the basics."

Lampson says more and more mums kept coming out of the woodwork, with many requests to join the page once it went live. "Now we have over 220 members, and it's about feeling like you're part of a community. Otherwise, it can be quite daunting, especially if you live out on a station. You can tend to feel like there's no support at all."

Providing that support is the very heart and soul of the work being done by the Midwife Check-In Program

"We want these women to feel more confident to care for their babies and enjoy parenting, no matter where they're based," says Kippen. "Just the notion that someone out there is thinking about them is really important."