Maternal Health: The Hidden Public Health Epidemic

Presenter/s: ANU Gender Institute, Maternal Health Matters

Event type: Seminar

Event date: Monday, 21 November 2022 - 6:00pm to 7:30pm

Event series: Maternal Health Series

Event venue: Online

Further information: Registration

The ANU Gender Institute and Maternal Health Matters Inc. invite you to join us online for the first of four seminars that will explore the impact of maternity on women’s wellbeing and the transition to parenting.


Australia faces a challenge in achieving high quality maternity care in a safe, respectful environment so that women and birthing people emerge healthy & well. Perinatal wellbeing is a complex concept that is more than the absence of illness. Furthermore, an extensive eight nation study commissioned by the European Union concluded that the transition to parenthood was “a critical tipping point on the road to gender equality” (2006, p.11). This finding is of significance for women in Australia underlining the need for improved, 21st century maternal & child health services & support for young families.

Themes presenters will speak to:

Maternity and mothering are the unfinished business of feminism. Childbearing is an important rite of passage, with deep personal and cultural significance for a woman and her family. The experience of maternity care has the potential to empower and comfort or to inflict lasting physical, psychological and emotional trauma. The events surrounding pregnancy, birth and postnatal care will influence a woman’s mothering career, her future health and the health of her baby.

Close to eighty percent of women will have a baby in Australia today. Annually there are approximately three hundred thousand births. There are significant concerns about a continuing medicalization of birth that is leading to poor outcomes for women and their families, conditions that are exacerbated by financial pressures and adjustment issues for couples in the early years after the birth.

The statistics from the Mother and Babies Report paint concerning trends showing high levels of intervention without a reduction in mortality and an increase in morbidity. Interventions are feeding into increases in birth trauma and PTSD, with one in three Australian mothers experiencing physical and emotional birth trauma. One in ten women emerge with post-traumatic stress disorder. For women to transition to mothering more confidently they need to receive respectful maternity care so as to emerge well from pregnancy and birth and access enhanced support in the postnatal period.


Professor Stephanie Brown 

Over the past fifteen years, Stephanie has developed a vibrant program of epidemiological and health services research, with a primary focus on reducing health inequalities. Her team is working with Aboriginal communities, refugee communities and women and children exposed to family violence to address gaps in evidence regarding effective intervention strategies to promote resilience and enable healing and recovery from the effects of trauma and family violence. In her leadership roles, Stephanie combines high standards of scientific rigour with a strong commitment to integration of community and policy knowledge in the development of research questions, and design and conduct of research through to dissemination and knowledge translation.

Dr Natalie KonYu

Natalie is a writer, academic and editor whose work has been published nationally and internationally. She is the author of The Cost of Labour: How women are trapped by the Politics of Pregnancy and Parenting and the co-commissioning editor of several books about unspoken aspects of women's lives.

Ellen O’Keeffe 

Ellen is currently President of Maternal Health Matters Inc. Ellen has a special interest in post-natal care and preparation for parenting. She has experience in health service planning and reproductive health education. Through Maternal Health Matters, Ellen hopes to see Australia rediscover pregnancy and birth as a family joy, not as an illness to be treated; where all health professionals have a role in ensuring that they provide evidence based respectful care and that the women in their care are empowered to be equal partners in this process. Ellen will speak to human rights in maternity care, drawing from the results of The Dignity Survey which was carried out by Maternal Health Matters. The acceptability and quality of maternity services includes treating women with dignity, creating trust and preventing harm. This requires a system that focusses on the experience of care - the interpersonal aspects of care - as well as the quality of that care.


Artwork: Vee Malnar 



Updated:  7 November 2012/Responsible Officer:  Convenor, Gender Institute/Page Contact:  Web manager, Gender Institute