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Expertise helps women achieve healthy pregnancies

Women birthing at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals have access to a range of diet and health related initiatives to help them achieve the best pregnancy outcomes possible, thanks to the work of Senior Dietitian/ Nutritionist, Dr Shelley Wilkinson.

Dr Wilkinson, who has been with Mater since 2008, was awarded a PhD in health psychology in July 2009 making her the only PhD qualified dietitian/nutritionist employed at a Queensland maternity hospital. She works in a newly established conjoint research appointment between Mater Mothers' Hospitals and Griffith University which is also a first for maternity services in the state.

Dr Wilkinson is now using her skills to help Mater Mothers’ Hospitals shape a new kind of maternity care for patients.

From ‘healthy start to pregnancy’ workshops and evidence-based nutrition resources designed to facilitate behaviour change, through to a soon-to-be-launched postnatal program to support women's awareness and ability to adopt healthy nutrition behaviours, Mater Mothers’ Hospitals are rapidly growing a progressive maternal health dietetic model of care.

According to Dr Wilkinson these maternal health dietetic models of care are currently absent from many maternity hospitals.

“Because pregnant women are seen as ‘healthy’ there are very limited dietetic resources allocated to this area,” Dr Wilkinson said.

“However, as the majority of women are in contact with a health service for care and women are more receptive to health messages during pregnancy, this is an opportune time to influence the health of two generations,” she said.

In her role as Senior Dietitian/Nutritionist at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals, Dr Wilkinson works both at a strategic level (planning models of care and designing education programs for expectant mothers) and a day-to-day clinical level.

She is also heavily involved in research and recently had a paper on the food choices pregnant women make published in the journal Nutrition and Dietetics.

The paper, Nutrition & Maternal Health: What women want and can we provide it?, showed expectant mothers at the Mater Mothers’ Hospitals were eating less than half the recommended serves of fruit and vegetables and at least one in three gained more than the recommended weight gain for pregnancy.

“Many of the pregnant women in our study had poor diets, placing them at a higher risk of unhealthy weight gain, high blood pressure and anaemia during pregnancy,” Dr Wilkinson said.

“A poor quality diet in pregnancy has also been linked with an increased long-term risk of chronic disease in babies in their adult life,” she continued.

“Current pregnancy care guidelines recommend that all pregnant women receive advice about the important factors which may influence pregnancy outcomes. Whilst many were interested in learning about good nutrition, only a small number had access to a dietitian, either during pregnancy or after the birth of their baby, for advice on healthy eating and managing healthy weight gain in pregnancy,” she said.


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