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The Sea of bellies project uses an arts intervention process to improve the health of pregnant Indigenous women, young mothers aged 15 to 25 years, and their babies in a number of locations throughout Australia. The project stemmed from concerns among local health services that this group of women were not getting access to pre-natal advice and often only sought medical assistance as their babies were being born.
In the past the young women would only see the midwives when they came to hospital to give birth. Now they get together each week during their pregnancies and make plaster casts of the young women's bellies. During the process the young women receive ante-natal care from the midwives, providing valuable information about maternal and baby care, nutrition, mental health, dental health, parenting and breastfeeding. Elders then paint the bellies, connecting the younger and older Aboriginal women.
The artworks and painted casts formed part of a popular exhibition at the Moree Plains Regional Gallery. Of the first group of ten participants, nine were still breastfeeding twelve months later and the average birth weight of their babies was significantly higher than those of babies born to women who had not been part of the project. Significantly, the young participants were also better educated about pre and post-natal care and were able to share important health messages with other pregnant women in their community.
Results from the project so far have demonstrated a significant increase in birth weights and longevity of breastfeeding. It has also resulted in the development of informal 'local support groups' and an increase of participation in ante-natal health programs.
Beyond Empathy initiated the first belly casting project in 2004, and the project was run in conjunction with the Kamilaroi Midwifery Service at the Moree Base Hospital until 2014. Currently the project is being hosted at the Moree East Public School in NSW.
Abstract adapted from Beyond Empathy
PO Box 844
Armidale NSW 2350
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