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Collage of mums and bubs staying at AHL's hostels

Going to hospital when their labour starts and heading home a day or 2 after their baby is born is not an option for First Nations women living in remote areas of the Northern Territory (NT). 

Having a baby should be a happy and fulfilling experience, not a lonely time isolated from family. However, it can be for First Nations women living in remote NT. They have to travel to either Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine or Nhulunbuy to give birth. This means they may be away from their family and community for weeks.

At 37 weeks pregnant, in order to have access to midwives and specialist care, women must travel to a hospital (often many hundreds of kilometres away) to reduce the possibility of a home birth. 

To support these expectant mothers with a safe place to stay before and after their baby is born, Aboriginal Hostels Limited (AHL) has pre- and post-natal hostels for First Nations mums and bubs in Darwin and Katherine. 

Our Gudang Dalba Hostel is on the grounds of the Royal Darwin Hospital. Gudang Dalba means mother and baby in the Larrakia language. Our Katherine Women’s Medical Hostel is located close to the Katherine District Hospital.

The hostels provide women and babies with a culturally safe and affordable place to stay. It may not be home but it is secure and nurturing, with supportive and caring staff on hand. 

Long-time Gudang Dalba Hostel Manager, Theresa Campbell says that for non-first-time Mums, it can be really hard leaving their other children behind. 

‘I get a lot of them wanting to have the baby and get home. It is sad being far away from their children. 

However, once the ladies arrive and get settled at the hostel, they like being alone to relax and chill out before baby is born, and even after.’

Theresa says that, depending on how far the expected mum is coming from and if they are at high risk (for example, they have diabetes or heart problems), they may arrive about 2 weeks before baby’s due date.

‘They stay until baby is born and if all is good with their baby’s weight, usually 2 to 3 days after leaving the hospital ward a couple of days after giving birth, they go home. But if baby is not putting on weight or at its correct weight they need to stay longer,’ Theresa said.

On average, all going well, the new mums will stay for a week before and a week after the baby arrives.

However, some babies need extra care and stay in the hospital’s special care nursery. Because the hostels are close by, their mother can stay at the hostel and walk across to the nursery at any time. This can go on for months. At Gudang Dalba the longest stay was 6 months. 

While staying at Gudang Dalba, new mothers are supported by a range of services. There is a consulting room on site and residents are also supported by the hospital’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioner and the Indigenous Liaison Officer. Interpreters are also available if necessary. Centrelink visits every second Tuesday to help mothers with the baby’s paperwork before they return to their community.

Theresa says that new mothers like staying at the hostel and often ask to come back to stay if they return for follow up appointments. They know they are welcome, safe and will be among supportive, friendly faces at our hostels.