More Top Stories

Rugby Union

Bigger and busier 2023: PM

31 December 2022

Rugby league

Moana target 2025 World Cup

11 November 2022

New antenatal classes in Rarotonga aim to instil confidence

Saturday 19 August 2023 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in Health, National


New antenatal classes in Rarotonga aim to instil confidence
Nui Rarotonga co-ordinator Lisa Hesp and midwife, registered nurse, and childbirth educator Rereao Vano (pictured with 1-year-old Seth Williams) have secured funding to continue rolling out a six-week course for expectant mothers and their support people. JOANNE HOLDEN/23081809

A new six-week course helping expectant Cook Islands mothers prepare for labour, birth and early parenting has secured funding to continue delivering the programme for at least another year.

Nui Rarotonga co-ordinator Lisa Hesp and midwife, registered nurse, and childbirth educator Rereao Vano say the Australian High Commission has agreed to fund four more of the six-week courses after the pilot “went really well” in May.

Operating under the Cook Islands Child Welfare Association (CICWA), the second course began on Wednesday with Vano saying they will run another three over the next 12 months “so women can tap into the classes whenever they like across their pregnancy continuum”.

“We’re trying to instil confidence in women that their body was built to do this wonderful and beautiful and powerful thing,” Vano says.

“All birthing experiences are very unique, but also quite similar. It’s nice for them to see they’re not alone in being unsure, or afraid, and it’s an overwhelming thing to anticipate.

“We try to give them reassurance, guidance, and confidence in themselves to be able to birth safely here.”

One mother gave feedback saying she lost her first-born child because “I was confused and didn’t know what to do”, but after taking the pilot course she felt she “had a fair idea as to what to do during labour and birth”.

Vano says the majority of births in Rarotonga occur at the hospital with no or limited pain relief, while home births were discouraged.

Hesp says they want to be able to support women to birth here as best they can.

One goal of the programme is to support women to advocate for themselves while working with medical professionals, to be able to communicate their needs and wishes, giving them more control over their birthing experience.

 “We do a session all about oxytocin, and how feeling safe and relaxed and stress-free is the best thing you can do to keep that natural labour process going – to keep the contractions moving, to keep everything flowing, and the repercussions of that after baby’s born.”

Vano says she wants women to feel “empowered” through the course.

“Sometimes we like to be spoon-fed by our healthcare, and just be open to letting things go and expecting it to be all right – versus actively monitoring and caring for yourself, and also knowing what resources are there.”

Hesp says there is also “quite a big focus on support people” in the course.

“Support people help create that safe, relaxed space for the pregnant mama. They help advocate and communicate with staff.”

Hesp says she discovered a need for more information and support for expectant mothers while volunteering at the Paunu health and well-being assessment clinic in Kavera, run by CICWA and Te Marae Ora.

Until 2019, monthly antenatal classes were offered at Rarotonga Hospital – but declining numbers and the global outbreak of Covid-19 brought the programme to a halt.

When the health ministry indicated they did not have the resources to start again, Hesp and Vano teamed up to bring the course into the community – with support from Volunteer Services Abroad Plunket nurse Molly Dalton and New Zealand antenatal support group Hapu Wananga, as well as funding from surgeon and MOTU Villas owner Professor John Dunn.

They had also received sponsorship from CITC Pharmacy, Cook Islands Family Welfare Association, Rito, and Te Ipukurea Society.

“It’s mainly Rere and I who are dedicating time to it, and then we have two or three other volunteer mothers helping us with ideas and support,” Hesp says.

“One mother came along to the breastfeeding session because she had a lot of difficulty breastfeeding. Some also helped us develop a list of items to take to the hospital, because they’d recently been through it – just things like that to help us really optimise this course.”

Hesp says Hapu Wananga’s lactation consultant, Karen Palmer, was coming to Rarotonga to support the second six-week course during its breastfeeding module.

“We’ll probably run another community breastfeeding workshop while she’s here – so people have a chance to hear from her, get the latest information, and also see her one-on-one if they’ve got any breastfeeding issues.”

The latest course kicked off on August 16, with classes at CICWA from 5pm to 7pm every Wednesday. Resources are frequently shared on the Nui Rarotonga Facebook page as well.