Calls to address shortage of Māori midwives

7:52 pm on 1 October 2015

Wāhine around the country are suffering due to a shortage of Māori midwives, the National Māori Midwives Organisation says.

New research has found links with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), placentas and pregnancy complications.

Ngā Maia Māori Midwives Aotearoa chief executive Jean Te Huia said Māori midwives could achieve better outcomes for new Māori mums and babies. Photo: 123RF

Most of the 3000 midwives in New Zealand are Pākehā, followed closely by immigrants, with only 260 midwives having being of Māori descent.

Almost 13,000 babies are born by Māori women each year, making up 22 percent of all babies born in Aotearoa annually.

Ngā Maia Māori Midwives Aotearoa chief executive Jean Te Huia said, if babies born to Māori fathers and non-Māori mothers were also included, Māori babies made up closer to a half of all births each year.

"The small number of Māori midwives today, we cannot spread ourselves out enough to care for more than 8 percent of the existing Maori birthing population," she said.

Ms Te Huia heads Hawke's Bay health provider Choices, which specialises in Māori birthing and pregnancy care.

She said recent data she had gathered showed Māori midwives were achieving better outcomes for new Māori mums and babies than the District Health Board.

"Our stats for our five Māori midwives in our group showed an 81 percent success rate for breast-feeding at six weeks, compared to the DHB that showed less than 49 percent Māori were still breast-feeding at six weeks."

Te Manu Korihi could only find one lead maternity carer in Wellington on the website Find a Midwife listed as being Māori and focusing on Māori mums.

Whanganui mother-of-one, Jayde Cooney, will begin a health certificate next year in her first step to become a midwife.

"That involves just knowing the body and getting to know the human body and all its parts. I just want to be able to bring new life into the world," Ms Cooney said.

She believed she would be able to connect well with pregnant Māori.

"Sometimes they tend to be a bit shy to tell Pākehā about their problems involving their pregnancy.

"They tend to talk better with a Māori midwife, than a Pākehā midwife."

She said she would take the workload as it came and would rely on her strong whānau support to achieve her goal.

A lead maternity carer in Christchurch, Leianne O'Brien, said whānau wanted to feel comfortable with who they were talking to.

"I know that with the whanau I look after, they like to see a Māori face and coming from a Māori perspective, they like to know that you've had children, although that's not a prerequisite."

Ms O'Brien said many Māori studying midwifery did have children, and so the costs to train were an even bigger strain on them and their family.

But she said, because of the shortage, once Māori were qualified, they found work easily in Christchurch.

"They just get snapped up."

Jean Te Huia said that was not the case in the North Island.

She attended a hui in Waikato three months ago which raised the alarm bells.

"Five midwifery new graduate Māori students were there at the meetings and told me that none of them could get onto the new grad programme. So it's very disappointing that we have a system that makes it more difficult."

Ms Te Huia said a lot of midwifery training was long-distance, which didn't work well for Māori, who were generally hands-on learners.

She wanted Maori tertiary providers such as Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Te Wānanga o Raukawa, and Te Wananga o Awanuiārangi to develop and run tikanga Māori midwifery courses.

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