Nine months after Victoria entered its second COVID lockdown, a baby boom is under way with record numbers of babies being born in Ballarat.
On April 15, doctors and midwives delivered a record 10 babies in the Ballarat Health Services Maternity Ward and across the whole month of April, 155 mothers gave birth to 158 babies at BHS.
In an average non-baby-boom month about 120 to 130 babies are delivered.
"Certainly what the pandemic has given us is a baby boom," said BHS chief nursing and midwifery officer Leanne Shea.
Compared to the same time last year, the number of births in Ballarat is about 15 per cent higher and there's even a baby boom among the staff within the unit with 15 women who have had babies recently or are expecting in the coming months.
Fatumata Kamara's son was supposed to be one of the new arrivals in the BHS maternity ward, but he was born at home about 11pm on Tuesday night after a 30 minute labour.
"We called the ambulance but the baby was already born and they came after he had already come out," Ms Kamara said.
"It was very quick."
Although so far un-named, Ms Kamara said she was thinking of naming her newborn son Ousmane and was eager to get him home to join his sister and four brothers aged 10, 8, 6, 4 and 2.
The pandemic-inspired baby boom, combined with Ballarat's accelerating population growth, means demands on the birthing suites, maternity ward and midwives are increasing.
Monday marked International Midwives Day and Ms Shea said there was a shortage of midwives across the country.
"From a team perspective we have a strong cohort of midwives but we are experiencing our own internal baby boom ... which puts further pressure on the workforce and we are always looking for new staff, new midwives to come on," Ms Shea.
BHS has about 70 full time equivalent midwives.
"The nursing and midwifery workforce faces many challenges across the state. There are not a whole lot of midwives sitting out there not working," Ms Shea said.
BHS is looking to develop refresher programs for midwives who may have been working in other roles or other areas of nursing in recent years to renew their skills in the hope they then apply for positions in the ward or join the casual bank for nursing support unit staff.
Maternity ward nurse unit manager Annemarie McKenzie said the ward also played a vital role in training.
Many midwives train initially as a nurse and study midwifery as a post-graduate qualification and BHS has a "supernumary model" for training where nurses do shifts on the maternity ward while completing their post-graduate midwifery studies.
"A lot of nurses want to go on to do that post graduate study but they need to work - not many people can stop work for a year or two to study - so this more funded model of midwifery study definitely helps," Ms McKenzie said.
"We have midwifery students come from all over the state and the country. We currently have two from Queensland and one from Western Australia," Ms McKenzie said.
It's part of BHS's role as a training hospital.
Ms Shea said across the health service there were about 28,000 placement days each year and on any given day there could be 150 students working across BHS' acute services, residential and sub-acute care.
"We are very proactive in having a significant number of students," she said.
And the training continues even after a nurse has qualified as a midwife, with ongoing training and development particularly around obstetric emergencies which has helped to improve birthing outcomes.
BHS is also working to create career pathways for midwives from as early as Certificate III level.
Ms Shea said it could start as simply as someone doing a Certificate III in individual support, then going on to do an enrolled nurse traineeship and Diploma of Nursing which opens the pathway to courses to become a registered nurse and then post-graduate studies.
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"Once they're on that pathway it's important for us to give them some taste of maternity so in the Enrolled Nurse diploma we do a mother and baby unit which gives some experience and hopefully piques their interest so when they come through and do graduate programs they can experience maternity and pediatrics and think about post graduate study."
Ms McKenzie said the role of a midwife was not just about delivering babies, but about supporting women and their families from the early stages of pregnancy through to the post-natal period after new families return home.
BHS also supports four other birthing services in the region, with the staffing shortage becoming more acute further out in to the regions.
"There's roughly 400 to 500 babies born elsewhere in the region each year so it's important to maintain those services," Ms Shea said.
"We are a growing health service, with a growing population and we need to be able to make sure we've got the people we need to provide the services we provide."
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