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Cultural practices and preferences when having a baby

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Depending on your social, religious, and cultural background, you may have certain expectations when you are having a baby.
  • In Australia, you have many choices about your care during pregnancy, and where and how to have your baby.
  • There are many services that can help support you, whatever your cultural background.
  • Hospitals in Australia provide you with free access to interpreters, either in person or over the phone, so that you and your healthcare team understand each other clearly.
  • Talk to your doctor or community health service to find support services near you.

How does my cultural background affect my pregnancy and birth?

Different cultures have different values, beliefs and practices. Your cultural background can affect your needs and expectations during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as how you and your family plan to raise children.

Many people in Australia believe it is important to follow pregnancy and birth practices of their culture.

For example:

  • You may chose not to eat certain foods during pregnancy, because of your cultural background.
  • During labour, you may prefer to avoid moving too much, or lie down, sit or squat, based on your culture.
  • In some cultures, the father does not attend the birth, but the mother or mother-in-law does.
  • Your culture may also have special rules for after you give birth, like staying in bed for a few days.

How does pregnancy care work in Australia?

In Australia, care during pregnancy and birth (antenatal care) is ‘patient-centred’. When you’re pregnant, this means it focuses on you and your needs.

When you have a baby in Australia, you have many choices. For example, you can choose:

The health professionals caring for you will ask you many questions. This is to make sure they understand what you need and want. They will also give you information and encourage you to ask questions.

They will also encourage you to take part, and make decisions about your care. If you wish, they will also involve your partner or family members.

Can healthcare in Australia meet my cultural needs?

It is your right in Australia to have healthcare that fits your cultural needs. This means that those caring for you in hospital and in the community will respect your wishes as much as possible.

Many antenatal clinics provide services for people with specific cultural needs. These include ‘cultural liaison officers’ who help explain your needs to health professionals. They also provide you extra support before and after the birth.

In most states and territories, multicultural health workers and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health workers, are available to help you with:

  • choosing an antenatal clinic
  • getting to appointments
  • finding relevant services and support groups in your area

Other community services are also available. For example, if you are an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person, you may have a local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Maternal Infant Health Service near you. If you are a refugee, your local community health service may have a Refugee Health Nurse.

Talk to your doctor to find out what is available in your area. You can also search Australian health services.

How can I communicate my needs and preferences?

It’s very important that the healthcare specialists looking after you and your baby understand what you want and need. If you don’t speak English well, you should ask for an interpreter.

Hospitals in Australia provide free access to interpreters, either in person or over the phone.

It is better to use a trained health interpreter rather than a family member where possible. This may help you feel more comfortable and may prevent any confusion.

Find out more about using an interpreter on the Translating and Interpreting Service website.

Resources and support

Having a baby can be a stressful time. It can be hard if your family is overseas or you are new to Australia. For help and support, you can get help and information from one of these services:

  • Talk to your local doctor or midwife.
  • Use government support services in your area. These may include multicultural services such as migrant resource centres, and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Services such as Aboriginal health centres.
  • Get involved in a community group, where others can help you connect to the traditions, ceremonies and rituals of your culture.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

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