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Bushfires and COVID take their toll on new mums

Researchers Seek More Participants For Mother And Child 2020 Survey

Almost seven-in-10 pregnant women and new mothers, 65 per cent, in the ACT and southeast New South Wales say they were severely exposed to bushfire smoke in our recent summer.

Almost nine-in-10, 85 per cent, said they isolated themselves and their family at some point this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are early results of the Mother and Child 2020 (MC2020) survey conducted by researchers from The Australian National University (ANU), University of Canberra and University of Wollongong (UOW), in partnership with Canberra Health Services and NSW Health.

The MC2020 study is examining the effects of this year’s bushfires and COVID-19 on the health and wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies. Mid-way through the survey, 750 women have participated.

The researchers are urging more women to enrol to increase the strength of the study findings. They are encouraging mothers from Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and multicultural communities to share their experiences.

The survey highlights the challenges women and their babies faced throughout the bushfires and pandemic as well as their adaptability and resilience in both the short and longer term.

Dr Danielle Schoenaker from UOW’s School of Medicine said the researchers would like to hear from more women in the Illawarra, Shoalhaven, Southern Highlands and South Coast regions about their health, wellbeing, support, and the challenges of being pregnant, having a baby and being a new mum during the bushfires earlier this year and during the pandemic.

“Women who were pregnant or planning to become pregnant while they were exposed to bushfire smoke may be worried about their health and that of their baby,” Dr Schoenaker said.

“Through this study we will be able to determine if and to what extent different levels of bushfire smoke exposure may have affected the health of mothers and their babies, and inform women on how they could be protected in the future.

“The restrictions imposed as a result of COVID-19 have significantly affected the majority of women who participated in the study so far. Women may have changed their dietary habits, physical activity levels, and missed the close support from family and friends.

“A clearer picture of the experiences of women in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions will be used to provide recommendation to health and community services on how to better support families in the future.

“We are very grateful for the women who have already joined the study, and are asking for more local women to participate by completing one or more online surveys to help us find answers that will lead to relevant and appropriate care and services.”

Ms Namita Mittal gave birth to twins during the lockdown and says that balancing looking after her newborn babies, helping her daughter do school from home and handling the pandemic without her family’s support caused her a great deal of anxiety.

“None of my family could fly to visit me from India. Having a family member come to stay with you 24/7 to help with the babies is important to me and different from hiring help. There was extra work for me to do and not having that family support was the main thing that caused me anxiety,” Ms Mittal said.

“When my daughter was born my mum came, so I had no experience of how to handle everything myself. Recovering from a caesarean section with two newborns and one child doing school from home, I was really anxious having to do this without my mum.”

The survey is available to anyone who was pregnant or had a baby no older than three months on 1 February 2020 or became pregnant by 30 April 2020 in Canberra and South-eastern New South Wales.

The four-part survey asks mothers a series of questions about how the bushfires and pandemic affected their pregnancy care, birthing and early months of having a new baby, including on their own mental and physical health, as well as the health of their baby.

The survey also asks mothers about how the crises affected their daily life, including access to healthcare, childcare, employment and contact with friends and family.

People can register for the Mother and Child 2020 survey here:

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