District delivers Healthy Beginnings for babies in Arabic and Mandarin-speaking communities

Healthy Beginnings program expanded

December 2019

District delivers Healthy Beginnings for babies in Arabic and Mandarin-speaking communities

District delivers Healthy Beginnings for babies in Arabic and Mandarin-speaking communities

Junting Chen’s baby Luna is happy and healthy.

“She’s a bit of a fussy eater. But I’ve introduced her to finger food and found that she liked it. She’s eating by herself now,” Junting said of her now 14-month old daughter.

Junting is one of more than 150 Mandarin and Arabic-speaking women who participated in a pilot program run by Sydney Local Health District’s health promotion team which offered women expert help to look after their newborn.

During the program, women who were pregnant or had just given birth, were given information, advice and support about breastfeeding, healthy infant food, active play and sleep settling plus the importance of looking after themselves too.

The information was provided in eight in-language booklets, phone calls from bilingual Child and Family Health Nurses and text messages during the third trimester and the early stages of their baby’s development.

More than 650 booklets were distributed, 260 phone calls made and more than 26,000 text messages sent.

The pilot was adapted from the District’s Healthy Beginnings early intervention program, which was implemented in 2008 and demonstrated promoting healthy practices could reduce the risk factors for childhood obesity.

The District is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) areas in New South Wales – about 44 per cent of people were born overseas and 55 per cent speak a language other than English at home.

“CALD communities are at greater risk of obesity in Australia and can experience difficulties accessing health care. To support these communities, the Healthy Beginnings program was adapted to be culturally relevant and accessible for Arabic and Mandarin-speaking women,” Marianne Kearney, the pilot program’s coordinator, said.

“The first 2000 days, from conception to age five, are a critical time in a child’s life. Research shows that establishing healthy infant feeding practices and ensuring children are active during this time is key to early obesity prevention and reducing the risk of obesity later in life,” she said.

The First 2000 Days initiative promotes key practices like

  • supporting exclusive breastfeeding of a baby until six months
  • introducing tummy time in the first week
  • delaying the introduction of solids until six months
  • talking, reading and playing with a baby to stimulate speech development
  • exercising within the first month after having a baby

Many of the practices were new to Mandarin and Arabic-speaking women – particularly if this was their first baby born in Australia, Marianne said.

But the pilot demonstrated the women were happy to adopt new practices, if they received booklets developed in consultation with their communities and they were given support via telephone conversations and text messages.

“The program helped me a lot with looking after my baby,” Junting, who moved to Australia in 2013, said.

“A nurse phoned me and we talked about how to introduce solid food. She suggested offering Luna some bread to familiarise her with food. She could eat it by herself even without any teeth. That advice really helped me,” she said.

She also showed the Healthy Beginnings booklets to Luna’s grandparents.

“Because of cultural differences, Luna’s grandma wanted to do things her own way. But, she could read the booklet. She could see I was following the instructions and it was working so she changed her ways too,” she said.

She also valued the program’s focus on her own health.

“It also reminded me that while the focus is on the baby, I shouldn’t forget to look after myself,” she said.

The pilot program is one of the ways the District is working to make health care more accessible.

“Providing information in languages other than in English is necessary and makes our services more inclusive, particularly for women who are newly arrived in Australia, from countries such as Syria or Iraq, or China,” Marianne said.

The pilot was run in partnership with District’s Cultural Support Program, plus Sydney Health Care Interpreter Service, South-Eastern Sydney LHD and South-Western Sydney LHD.

It also had the support of Advance Diversity Services, Diversity Kids, NSW Refugee Health Service, Chinese–Australian Services Society, and the Lebanese Muslim Association.

It’s hoped the program may be able to be offered to other CALD communities in the District.

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